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A North Atlantic Right Whale breaches with a ship in the background.Credit: NOAA Fisheries

North Atlantic right whales are approaching extinction, and vessel strikes, also known as ship strikes, are a leading cause of their declining population. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Ships Speeding Through Right Whale Slow Zones, Report Finds

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October 19, 2023

BOSTON, Oct 19 (Reuters) – More than 80% of ships are speeding through “go slow” zones set by environmental regulators along the U.S. East Coast to protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, according to a report released on Thursday by environmental group Oceana.

North Atlantic Right Whales are on the brink of extinction, numbering just 340, with ship strikes among the top causes of death.

Oceana said it analyzed boat speeds from November 2020 through July 2022 in slow zones established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) along the East Coast and found that 84% of boats sped through mandatory slow zones, and 82% sped through voluntary slow zones.

NOAA created the 10 knot limits for vessels over 65 feet (20 meters) long in 2008.

“Boats are speeding, and whales are dying — it’s just that simple,” said Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan, who urged regulators to boost enforcement of the speed restrictions. 

NOAA told Reuters in an email that its own evaluation showed 80% compliance with speed restrictions in the zones, but added that its methodology was different from Oceana’s.

“NOAA Fisheries’ approach evaluates overall compliance based on the percent of the total distance traveled by AIS-equipped vessels in the speed zones at compliant speeds,” it said.

It pointed out that ships sometimes enter the zones above 10 knots before slowing down.

Oceana said it used data from Global Fishing Watch, an international nonprofit organization founded by Oceana in partnership with satellite imagery providers SkyTruth and Google, to track ship speeds and locations.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Sandra Maler)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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