Several environmental organizations are urging the government to swiftly implement emergency measures to safeguard a rare species of whale from fatal encounters with large ships. The plea was submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on September 28, focusing on the North Atlantic right whale, a species on the brink of extinction with a population of less than 340 individuals.
According to NOAA, ship collisions pose a severe threat to the survival of these whales. The environmental groups highlighted a proposed rule by the agency aimed at preventing such incidents by compelling vessels to slow down in areas frequented by whales. Despite proposing these rules over a year ago, NOAA has not yet finalized or implemented them, causing growing concerns among conservationists.
The urgency is heightened due to the approaching calving season when these whales travel hundreds of miles from their habitats off New England and Canada to their calving areas near Florida and Georgia. The environmental groups emphasize the vital need for these regulations to be in place before this critical period.
Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, stressed the significance of speed limits in preventing fatal collisions. She emphasized that even a single ship strike could push these whales closer to extinction, making immediate action imperative.
NOAA, represented by spokesperson Katie Wagner, stated that the agency plans to announce its final decision on the proposed rule later this year. However, this decision might coincide with the calving season, potentially delaying the implementation of these regulations. While the agency is aware of the petition, it refrains from commenting on litigation matters.
Notably, NOAA had rejected a previous request from environmentalists to promptly enforce new rules. At that time, the agency indicated its focus on long-term measures to substantially reduce the risk of vessel strikes. Over 90,000 comments were received on the proposed rule, which NOAA is considering to inform its final decision.
The North Atlantic right whales, once abundant along the East Coast, suffered drastic population decline during the commercial whaling era. They have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for several decades. Besides ship collisions, these whales also face threats from accidental entanglement in commercial fishing gear. Proposed restrictions to prevent such incidents have led to a prolonged legal battle between the federal government and fishermen.