New Speed Limit Could Save Whales
We’ve got speed limits on highways and city streets and winding country roads. Now, thanks to rules approved by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service in late 2008, we’ve also got new speed restrictions in shipping lanes along the Atlantic coast. The new rules require all vessels that are 65 feet or longer to obey a 10-knot seasonal speed limit in various locations along the Atlantic coast. The seasonal restrictions are based upon the North Atlantic right whale migration patterns, and are meant to help reduce the risk of fatal encounters between right whales and large vessels.
Right whales, which are one of the world’s most endangered animals, spend their summers off the coast of New England and Canada, and travel south to the coastal waters off Georgia and Florida for the winter months. Already, speed restrictions are in place in various locations along the Atlantic coast, from Florida to Massachusetts. As the whales migrate north, the speed restrictions will follow them -- the seasonal restrictions in Florida and Georgia end April 15, and those restrictions extending through Rhode Island are in effect through the end of April.
Beginning April 1, the Great South Channel -- an important shipping lane off the east coast of Cape Cod -- will begin observing the new 10-knot speed limit. Since the Great South Channel is am important migratory route and feeding area for right whales during the spring and early summer months, this restrictions will remain in effect through July 31.
Only 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales are left alive today, and the species is officially considered critically endangered. Accidental collisions with ships, boats and large vessels is believed to be their greatest threat, and strict speed limits could represent their best hope for survival. Cargo vessels and cruise ships may complain about the seasonal speed limits, but we think saving a species is worth slowing down a bit. Don’t you?