Canada further strengthens its vessel speed restriction scheme in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to help prevent collisions between endangered North Atlantic right whales and ships during the 2020 whale season.
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, with only about 400 individuals remaining. Named the ‘right’ whale by whalers because it is slow-moving and easy to catch, the species was hunted to near extinction by the late 1800s. Although whaling is no longer a threat, human interactions continue to present the greatest danger to this species. Its habitat and migration routes along the East Coast of Canada and the US are located close to major ports and often overlap with shipping lanes. Hence, in addition to fishing gear entanglements, collisions with vessels are now one of the main causes of premature death of right whales. For this reason, the Canadian government continues to take action to divert ship traffic away from known right whale habitats and to slow down vessels in areas where right whales tend to gather.
Overview of 2020 protection measures
On 27 February 2020, Transport Canada announced that the following vessel traffic management measures will be enforced in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the 2020 whale season and are applicable to all vessels more than 13 m in overall length:
Please visit Transport Canada’s website “Protecting North Atlantic right whales from collisions with ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence” for additional information.
Members and clients with vessels trading to the Gulf of St. Lawrence should make every effort to ensure that masters are informed of the speed restriction zones in force at any given time. Masters should also be encouraged to reduce the ship’s speed to 10 knots or less while transiting areas with voluntary speed restrictions, or alternatively route around the area, and to post lookouts that are familiar with spotting right whales.
If a deviation from the speed restrictions is necessary for safety reasons, a logbook entry must be made, stating the reason for the deviation, speed at which the vessel operated, latitude and longitude at the time of the deviation and time and duration of the deviation. The entry must be signed by the master. If Transport Canada determines that a vessel did not comply with the speed restrictions in force, vessel operators could be fined between CAD 6,000 and CAD 25,000.
The Canadian authorities also provide a useful interactive map on the latest right whale observations and we encourage ships’ crews to report all whale sightings or incidents, thereby contributing to keeping the map up-to-date.
Slow down for right whales in the US too
Ship operators and masters should also note that, at the time of writing, mandatory and voluntary speed restrictions are in force in several right whale management areas along the US East coast. For details, including visual maps of all active speed reduction zones, please visit the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) website “Reducing Ship Strikes to North Atlantic Right Whales“.