Throttling Speed Limits in Right Whale Waters

Scientists recently shared a small bit of positive news that the remaining number of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales (NARW) may be slightly higher than previously believed. The 2021 estimate of 340 individuals was recalculated to 365 due to calf births that year. The 2022 estimate is 356, perhaps indicating a slower rate of decline after a precipitous drop over the prior decade. Even this good news is tinged with a warning however: These new data underscore the urgency of protecting females and their calves from vessel strikes, which pose particular threats to them because of how much time they spend close to the ocean’s surface. 

Nonetheless, efforts to thwart improvements in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s vessel speed rule continue. Most recently, the House-passed appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior includes an amendment by Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA) prohibiting any funding to finalize, implement, administer, or enforce NOAA’s vessel speed rule. This is on top of legislation introduced earlier (see AWI Quarterly, fall 2023) to prevent NOAA from moving forward with its vessel speed rule improvements until near-real-time monitoring technologies have been deployed. Such technologies are nowhere near ready for use. 

To fend off these attacks, AWI has met with dozens of House and Senate offices to ensure they understand the importance of NOAA’s proposed rule and have the necessary information to counter false claims raised by the rule’s opponents. 

Additionally, AWI cohosted a congressional briefing about NOAA’s proposed amendments. With staff from over 95 legislators’ offices in attendance, speakers emphasized the science behind the proposal, the urgency of finalizing the rule, and the fact that in 50+ years of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, no species has been allowed to go extinct. The speakers urged members of Congress to support NOAA in continuing this legacy by supporting the proposed rule and blocking efforts to delay or defeat it. 

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