Saving the North Atlantic Right Whale - North AmericaDon't fail our whale
On September 18, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced its plans for the historic $82 million provided by the Inflation Reduction Act to save the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. These plans come amid a contentious battle on Capitol Hill between scientists and environmental organizations on one side and industry groups on the other over a proposal by NOAA Fisheries to update its 2008 vessel speed regulation.
The plans include dedicating around $35.8 million to monitoring and modeling, about $20.1 million to vessel strike risk reduction efforts, about $17.9 million to supporting on-demand fishing gear, and about $5 million to enforcement efforts, new equipment, technologies, and operations.
In response, Kathleen Collins, IFAW senior marine campaign manager, issued the following statement:
“The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale’s population is declining faster than it can reproduce. We applaud NOAA’s plans to protect right whales from the dire threats of entanglements and vessel collisions. However, with less than 340 remaining North Atlantic right whales, every loss is a catastrophic blow, and we are disappointed at the lack of funding directed at field efforts such as disentanglement, stranding response, and necropsies, which are essential to help keep individual right whales alive.”
IFAW is leading the way in whale conservation by developing methods to save injured and entangled whales at sea. This is the only project on the US East Coast that has the equipment and experienced personnel to deliver medications to fight infections caused by extensive injuries or sedatives to calm right whales so they can be disentangled. Additionally, by performing necropsies on stranded right whales, our team determines causes of death and assesses whale health. We use that critical information to evaluate the efficacy of existing conservation policies and inform future policies needed to ensure population recovery.
IFAW recently announced the results of a survey of Americans’ views on wildlife conservation, animal welfare, and climate change. Data show that 89% of Americans think it is important to protect endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale. Meanwhile, 80% of Americans support slower vessel speeds and 75% support fishermen using new technologies.
In fall 2022, NOAA proposed changes to vessel speed limits to further reduce deaths and serious injuries among right whales. These changes are still being evaluated against substantial opposition from professional and recreational mariners, but they are necessary for the North Atlantic right whale’s survival as a species.
Under these new regulations, dynamic speed zones, established when whales are known to be in an area outside a seasonal zone, would become mandatory instead of voluntary. The rule would be expanded to cover vessels 35 feet and longer, as approximately 40% of documented strikes since the rule was established involved vessels less than 65 feet long. IFAW urges NOAA to enact this proposed rule change, as this would directly reduce the risk of vessel strikes to right whales.
In addition, the safe navigation provision would be expanded to cover not only safe navigation, but also medical and other emergency situations, including inclement weather conditions, for 35- to 65-foot vessels.
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