Coast Guard keeps merchant mariners and public informed on whales

5th Coast Guard District NewsPORTSMOUTH, Va. — The Coast Guard is taking active measures to ensure the health and safety of whales in local waters.

Every year, from November to April, several whale species return to the Virginia coastal waters that are part of their migratory routes and calving grounds.

During this time, the Coast Guard, in partnership with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, enforces the Ship Strike Reduction Rule (50 CFR 224.105) for a seasonal management area in the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. The Coast Guard has been actively informing all vessels greater than or equal to 65 feet in length of the 10-knot speed limit in the management area. The purpose of the regulation is to decrease the likelihood of deaths and serious injuries to whales that result from collisions with ships, including the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

Additionally, the Coast Guard has been notifying commercial and recreational boaters of key regulations concerning approaching whales.

  • All boaters within half a mile of any whale species are required to reduce speed to 7 knots or less.
  • Approaching within 500 yards of a Right Whale is a violation of federal law that can result in civil or criminal penalties under the Endangered Species Act.
  • All boaters are required to maintain a 100-foot buffer zone for all other whale species.


“Compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act protects these animals and promotes boater safety for those who want to view them along our coasts,” said Chief Petty Officer Jason Lind, a maritime law enforcement officer at Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads. “As a law enforcement officer, I would much rather prevent violations through education than charge someone after they have violated a regulation.”

Coast Guard vessels are actively monitoring the management area to ensure compliance. Throughout the season the Coast Guard transmits marine information broadcasts, which include locations of whale sightings, via channel VHF-FM channel 16.

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