The Countdown to Save North Atlantic Right Whales - Oceana USA
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June 7, 2024

The Countdown to Save North Atlantic Right Whales

Credit | EcoHealth Alliance, NOAA Permit #594-1759

That’s how long it’s been since our government proposed increased protections on August 1, 2022, for North Atlantic right whales, but has yet to finalize and implement them. 

While this clock is ticking, critically endangered North Atlantic right whales are running out of time. 

Boat collisions remain a top threat to this species and our government has a duty to protect it. In the 2024 calving season alone, we’ve already seen three dead whales due to boat strikes. Since 2017, at least 21 have been struck by boats. And that’s just what we know of. Many other whales can die and never make it to shore.

North Atlantic right whales are in steep decline and on the verge of extinction. With only around 356 remaining as of the last estimate in late 2023 and a large number washing up dead since then, they could be the first large whale species to go extinct in the Atlantic Ocean in centuries. 


In August of 2022, the National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledged that current protections are not enough to allow North Atlantic right whales to recover and proposed new vessel speed regulations to address the ongoing threats from boat traffic in the U.S. Atlantic. The proposed changes would update the existing vessel slow zones that have been in effect since 2008. Nearly 20,000 Oceana members and supporters commented in support of the proposed regulations, which still have yet to be implemented.

In December of 2022, Oceana filed an emergency rulemaking petition with Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Assistant Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service Janet Coit demanding immediate action to save critically endangered North Atlantic right whales: put the government’s own proposal on the water immediately.  This would have ensured the protection of pregnant females, lactating mothers and calves during calving season, which runs from November to April every year. 

In January 2023, NOAA rejected the petition, leaving North Atlantic right whales in peril. The agency claimed they recognized the urgent nature of the right whale’s continued decline, due in part to the ongoing risk of boat strikes, and intended to work diligently to address the threat with permanent protections. In its rejection NOAA said at the time that it anticipated “taking final action on the proposed rule in 2023.”

Yet here we are in 2024 and we are no closer to the improved protections that our own government experts recommended.


The most effective way to stop boats from hitting North Atlantic right whales is by slowing them down in areas and seasons where these whales swim — exactly what NOAA proposed in 2022.

Expansions of NOAA safeguards to reduce the risk of vessels hitting whales are vital to the future of this species, and further delay spells extinction for this entire species. More delays are unacceptable.

NOAA’s proposal has worked its way through government review and is currently on President Biden’s desk, waiting for action. He can and must implement the Vessel Speed Rule requiring boats to slow down for the whales.     

The survival of this species depends on effective federal whale protections.  

Tick tock.


Join Oceana in the fight against time to save these whales and tell President Biden to approve the vessel speed rule today.

Learn more about the campaign.