Vessel collisions are one of the main threats facing critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, of which only an estimated 340 remain. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) led a letter from legislators to the National Marine Fisheries Service in support of the agency’s long-awaited proposed amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction rule. AWI also submitted comments urging NMFS to end the delay.
These changes (which industry groups have attempted to stave off via a strong misinformation campaign) would broaden management areas, extend seasonal speed restrictions, and expand mandatory speed restrictions to cover most vessels 35–65 feet in length. Studies have found that slowing vessel speeds to 10 knots reduces a North Atlantic right whale’s risk of collision death 80–90 percent.
Since the original speed rule went into effect in 2008, NMFS has documented 12 right whale mortality and serious injury events involving vessel collisions in US waters, along with an additional five mortality and serious injury events involving unknown whale species, possibly right whales. These numbers are likely an underestimate of right whales injured or killed in vessel collisions. For a species on the brink of extinction, the loss of even one whale to vessel collisions is too much.