A proposal aims to reduce whale ship strikes

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A federal agency wants to help protect endangered whales from collisions with boats by setting a speed limit along stretches of the East Coast.

The National Marine Fisheries Service  — a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — announced last week that it is proposing a speed restriction of 10 knots or less at specific times of the year in relation to the seasonal locations of right whales, a new release says. The restrictions would apply only to boats 65 feet or longer. Federal vessels would be excluded.

“Reducing serious injuries and deaths among right whales due to ship collisions will allow more of these rare animals to reach maturity and to reproduce,” says Dr. Bill Hogarth, Marine Fisheries service director, in the release. “We believe the measures proposed here will make U.S. East Coast waters safer for right whales.”

Collisions with boats have caused half of all known human-caused deaths of the mammals, the Associated Press reported. Right whales tend to swim near the surface and apparently are less aware of their surroundings when they are eating.

If approved by the secretary of commerce, the proposed speed limit would apply to the whales’ nursery grounds off southern Georgia and northern Florida Nov. 15 to April 15, according to the news report. From Nov.1 to April 30 the speed limit would be applied to the whales’ migratory route from northern Georgia to Rhode Island.

The speed limit would also be applied off Massachusetts from January until July while the whales are feeding, the report says. The restriction would be implemented in Cape CodBay from Jan. 1 through mid-May, off Race Point March 1 until April 30 and in the Great South Channel from April 1 through July 21.

—Jason Fell