The U.S. Coast Guard is advising ships and mariners in New England to head caution as multiple groups of endangered North Atlantic right whales have been spotted off the coast of Massachusetts
The groups have been observed from Boston Light to Marshfield on the south shore of Massachusetts, the Coast Guard said.
As per the Endangered Species Act, it is unlawful to approach within 500 yards of a North Atlantic right whale by a vessel, aircraft (including drones) or other means, or to fail to take required avoidance measures.
There is also a seasonal management area in effect in Cape Cod Bay through May 15. Within this area, mariners are subject to mandatory speed restrictions of 10 knots or less.
Right whales are surface feeders, which means they are often at the surface or just below the surface when feeding, which makes them hard to see and especially vulnerable to ship strikes.
“North Atlantic right whales are endangered, with a population of only about 450 remaining,” said Capt. Claudia Gelzer, commander of Coast Guard Sector Boston. “It is crucial for people on the water to help protect the whales by adhering to the 500 yard restriction area and vessel speed restrictions.”
NOAA Fisheries announced that a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone is currently in effect 12 Nautical Miles east of Boston to protect an aggregation of right whales. This is in effect through May 3, 2018. “Mariners are requested to route around this zone or transit through it at ten knots or less,” the Coast Guard said.
Last year, an unusually high number of deaths among North Atlantic right whales in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence puzzled scientists. At least nine deaths in just two months, making 2017 deadliest year for the endangered mammals since scientists began tracking their numbers in the 1980s.
Additional information about North Atlantic right whales and vessel speed restriction zones graphics can found at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike.