Coast Guard and NOAA remind mariners to slow down to protect right whales

Coast Guard District 5 NewsPHILADELPHIA — The Coast Guard reminded large vessel operators Wednesday that Operation Right Speed is in effect until the end of April 2012, to protect right whales in mid-Atlantic waters where they are known to migrate.

Collisions with ships and interaction with fishing gear are a major cause of mortality and injury to the North Atlantic right whale.

The Coast Guard is working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a shared goal of conserving and rehabilitating the whale’s population. NOAA fisheries implemented the regulations, which require vessels 65-feet or greater to operate at 10 knots or less over ground in certain locations at certain times of year along the east coast of the Atlantic seaboard consistent with the animals migratory pattern.

As an ocean steward and the federal government’s primary at-sea enforcement agency, the Coast Guard is responsible for conserving the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. The whales are among the most depleted of all large whales worldwide with the global population being approximately 300-400.

“The Coast Guard, as one of the United States’ primary protected species stewards, continues to protect the right whale from ship strikes and other man-made threats in areas where they tend to congregate,” said Lt. Trevor Blount, deputy enforcement chief for Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia. “Coast Guard efforts are largely focused on educational measures that ensure mariners are aware of these areas, followed by warnings and finally issuance of civil penalties to those who egregiously violate speed restrictions in those areas where the right whale is likely to be found.”

Historical records indicate an average of two reported deaths or serious injuries to right whales occur due to ship strikes each year, but it is likely that more occur and go unreported. Even a single human caused death or serious injury a year can impact the population’s ability to survive.

To report a suspected violation in the seasonal management areas call the national hotline at 800-853-1964.

The North Atlantic right whale is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

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