Oceana Calls on President Biden to Approve NOAA’s Proposed Vessel Speed Rules to Protect North Atlantic Right Whales
Nearly 20,000 Petition Signatures from all 50 States Were Delivered Showing Support for the Proposal to Save Critically Endangered Whales from Extinction
Press Release Date: November 30, 2022
Location: Washington, D.C.
Oceana urges President Biden to expediently approve the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s (NOAA) proposed vessel speed rule that would help protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. As part of the public comment period that ended on Oct. 31, 2022, Oceana delivered nearly 20,000 petition signatures and a letter calling for the government to enact desperately needed new safeguards for these whales.
With the extinction of the species on the line, concerned citizens from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico signed their names in support of NOAA’s proposal.
“We can’t wait any longer for action. The urgency of the threats to North Atlantic right whales cannot be understated. Their very existence perilously hangs in limbo as current safeguards established by our government are insufficient. NOAA’s proposal is not only necessary; it is imperative for the future of this critically endangered species. We urge President Biden to seal his commitment to environmental preservation and hold his agency accountable for following existing law by swiftly approving NOAA’s vessel speed proposal. As we speak, North Atlantic right whale mothers are heading south for calving season, where they will face the threat of thousands of speeding boats traveling in their migratory zone. These whales are slow surface swimmers, so curbing speeding boats in the areas where they swim is essential to lessening the chance of boat collisions. We already know that smaller boats that are currently exempt from speed regulations can and do hit North Atlantic right whales, and the new rules would be a huge step in the right direction to protect them,” said campaign director Gib Brogan.
Thirteen congressional leaders also sent a letter to NOAA in support of the proposed rule. In the letter, the representatives wrote:
“We are encouraged to see several critical changes in the proposed rule that better address vessel strike risk throughout the North Atlantic right whale’s U.S. range. These improvements mirror the recommendations issued in the agency’s June 2021 North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Speed Rule Assessment. We urge [the National Marine Fisheries Service] to finalize a strong vessel speed rule as soon as possible after reviewing and considering comments received during the current public comment period.”
Additionally, 29 environmental groups signed a letter of support. In the letter, the groups wrote:
“While we are in favor of these improvements from the previous rule and ask that you approve a final rule as quickly as possible, the National Marine Fisheries Service should also consider requiring vessels covered by this rule to carry and continuously transmit automatic identification system (AIS) devices for public vessel tracking, improving monitoring and enforcement of speed limits, designate dynamic speed zones (DSZs) following the visual confirmation of a single North Atlantic right whale, and including an exemption for permitted disentanglement vessels who are actively engaged in a response.”
Oceana also submitted a 28-page letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service, detailing the existing threats to and risk mitigation strategies for North Atlantic right whales.
Multiple studies show that slowing boats to 10 knots reduces a North Atlantic right whale’s risk of death by boat collision by 80% to 90%.
Last month, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium released its new population estimate for North Atlantic right whales, which stands at only around 340, including around 80 breeding females.
North Atlantic right whales were named for being the “right” whale to hunt because they were often found near shore, swim slowly and tend to float when killed. They were aggressively hunted, and their population dropped from peak estimates of up to 21,000 to perhaps fewer than 100 by the 1920s. After whaling of North Atlantic right whales was banned in 1935, their population increased to as many as 483 individuals in 2010. Unfortunately, that progress has been reversed.
Collisions with boats is a leading cause of North Atlantic right whale injury and death. They are slow, swimming around 6 miles (or 9.5 kilometers) per hour, usually near the water’s surface. They are also dark in color and lack a dorsal fin, making them very difficult to spot. Studies have found that the speed of a vessel is a major factor in vessel-related collisions with North Atlantic right whales. At high speeds, boats cannot maneuver to avoid them, and they swim too slowly to be able to move out of the way. This puts them at great risk of being struck, which can cause deadly injuries from blunt-force trauma or cuts from propellers.
Entanglement in fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab, and other species is another leading cause of North Atlantic right whale deaths. Around one-quarter of the population is entangled in fishing gear from the U.S. and Canada each year, and about 85% of whales have been entangled at least once. Ropes have been seen wrapped around their mouths, fins, tails, and bodies, which slow them down; make it difficult to swim, reproduce, and feed; and can cause death. The lines cut into the whales’ flesh, leading to life-threatening infections, and are so strong that they have severed fins and tails, and cut into bone.
To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, please click here.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit www.USA.Oceana.org to learn more.