Ship Strike Rule Renewed: A Win for Whales

Ship Strike Rule Renewed:  A Win for Whales
Tuesday, 10 December, 2013
Washington, DC

Hours prior to the rule’s scheduled expiration, the Obama Administration’s announcement today of its decision to uphold the Ship Strike Rule is an important development in the ongoing efforts to protect endangered right whales.  However, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is concerned about preliminary requests from the shipping industry to weaken the regulation.  

The Final Rule to Reduce the Threat of Ship Collisions with North American Right whales, also known as the Ship Strike Rule, mandates speed restrictions of no more than 10 knots for vessels 65 feet or greater in certain locations and at certain times of the year along the east coast of the United States.

“We applaud the Department of Commerce’s action – there is no doubt the ship strike rule has worked to conserve the ocean’s few remaining right whales,” said Margaret Cooney, IFAW Campaigns Officer.  “The reason is simple -- when ships slow down, the risk to whales is drastically reduced.  Any adjustments to weaken the rule would heighten the risk of pushing the species to extinction.” 

Scientific research shows that when ships travel at the required speed, the fatality risk falls by 80 percent. Since implementation of the Ship Strike rule in 2008, no right whales are known to have been killed by vessels within 40 nautical miles of management areas with active speed restrictions. 

By removing the “sunset clause” that would have caused the rule to expire today, the speed regulations will remain in place. Yet, despite all indications supporting the effectiveness of this rule, industry is unconvinced. An ask was made to “exclude federally-maintained dredged channels and pilot boarding areas (and the immediately adjacent waters) for ports from New York to Jacksonville,” and while not excluded under the current rule released today, NMFS will be opening this request for comments to consider this for future amendment to the rule.

Cooney stated, “such an exclusion would weaken the effectiveness of the regulations as heavy ship traffic and right whales overlap in these areas during the annual migration from northern waters off New England to southern calving grounds along the shores of Georgia and Florida.”

Mother-calf pairs are particularly vulnerable to ship strike collision as they spend more time at the surface. Exclusion of ports on this migratory path would put these individuals at even greater risk.

“IFAW has been working hard to keep the pressure on the Administration to ensure this rule did not expire, and we will continue to advocate for stronger protections with any future rulemaking,” said Cooney.  “We’ve worked closely with Congressman Keating who recognizes the value that North Atlantic right whales have to the local economies as well as the intrinsic value these majestic animals have. Congressman DeFazio and Congresswoman Shea-Porter have also “gone to bat” for the right whales. We welcome the strong support of these Representatives in continuing to protect this highly endangered animal.”

Since the inception of the Ship Strike Rule IFAW has been working to assist industry in applying this rule to their daily operations along the East Coast.

To aid in a ship’s compliance with the Ship Strike Rule, IFAW worked with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and collaborators to launch a free iPad and iPhone app, Whale Alert, in the spring of 2012. Whale Alert provides mariners with up-to-date right whale information and informs users when their vessels enter right whale management areas subject to speed restrictions.

Around the world, whales face numerous threats; and, efforts to protect and save these magnificent creatures has garnered widespread public support.

“A national survey conducted in 2012 revealed that Americans overwhelmingly support whale conservation, and the U.S. has been a leader in its efforts to protect the majestic animals” added Cooney.  “In keeping with this tradition, the greatest tool we currently have for increasing the survival odds of the North Atlantic right whale, is the Ship Strike Rule."

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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