Washington, United States: Most vessels are breaching speed limits in areas designated to preserve critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, of which only roughly 360 exist, according to research released Wednesday.
Oceana, a non-profit group, studied ship and boat speeds throughout the US Atlantic coast from 2017 to 2020 in speed zones set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to the study, non-compliance was as high as nearly 90% in mandatory speed zones, while non-cooperation was as high as over 85% in optional regions.
Collisions with vessels are one of the two most common causes of damage and death for North Atlantic right whales, with research showing that decreasing vessel speeds to 10 knots (11.5 mph, 18.5 kph) reduces the probability of mortality by 80 to 90%.
“Vessels are speeding, North Atlantic right whales are dying, and there’s not enough accountability,” said Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana.
To preserve the endangered species, NOAA has established two types of zones: permanent Seasonal Management Area (SMA) speed zones in areas where whales are predicted to be found, and temporary voluntary Dynamic Management Area (DMA) speed zones when a whale is detected.
The SMAs need a 10-knot restriction, whereas the DMAs recommend the same.
Global Fishing Watch, an international nonprofit organization formed by Oceana in conjunction with Google and SkyTruth, collected speed and location data for the study.
Only two-thirds of the vessels in a mandated zone in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, were found to be in compliance.
In a route between North Carolina and Georgia, the zone with the highest levels of non-compliance (90 percent) was discovered.
New York and New Jersey ports had a non-compliance rating of 70%.
Two-thirds of the vessels that exceeded the limitations were flagged under foreign flags, with cargo ships being the most common violators.
The study concentrated on vessels 65 feet (19.8 meters) and bigger since they must transmit their signals continually; nevertheless, smaller vessels can also be deadly.
A calf died from propeller wounds, broken ribs, and a cracked skull after colliding with a 54-foot (16.4 meters) recreational fishing vessel in February, according to NOAA.
“Killing even one is a problem, as scientists estimate that even a single human-caused North Atlantic right whale death a year threatens the species’ chances of recovery,” said Webber.
North Atlantic right whales were named after the fact that they were located close to shore, swam slowly, and floated when dead, making them the “right” whale to kill.
They once numbered as many as 21,000 individuals but were driven to near extinction in the early twentieth century, with only about 100 living by the 1920s.
The whaling of North Atlantic right whales was stopped in 1935, resulting in a population increase of up to 483, but the trend has since been reversed.
The other primary cause of North Atlantic right whale death is entanglement in the fishing gear used to collect crab and fish.