North Atlantic right whale. Photo/NOAA, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Permit 15488

NOAA Fisheries Service is seeking comments on its proposal to make permanent the rules it implemented 5 years ago to reduce the number of collisions between ships and North Atlantic right whales.

Right whales are among the most endangered species in the world, and are highly vulnerable to ship collisions. The rules, part of NOAA’s long-standing efforts to recover right whales, are currently scheduled to expire in December 2013. NOAA’s proposal to make them permanent, which includes a 60-day public comment period, was filed at the Federal Register today.

The existing rules, which reduce an ocean-going vessel’s speed to 10 knots or less during certain times and locations along the East Coast from Maine to Florida, have reduced the number of whales struck by ships since 2008, when the speed limits began. No right whale ship strike deaths have occurred in Seasonal Management Areas since the rule went into place. Modeling studies indicate the measures have reduced the probability of fatal ship strikes of right whales by 80% to 90%.

Also, NOAA’s revised estimates indicate that the restrictions cost the shipping industry and other maritime communities about 1/3 of original 2008 projections. NOAA scientists say that industry participation and compliance is high, and that in most cases vessels have incorporated speed restrictions into their standard operations and voyage planning.


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