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Rules needed to protect right whales
The following editorial appeared recently in the Bangor Daily News.

   The dissecting of a right whale on a beach on Campobello Island offered a rare public view of the demise of one of the rare cetaceans. Although the cause of the young whale's death has yet to be de termined, it appeared to have many scars from colliding with a ship. This shows that federal regulators are right to move ahead with restrictions on ships to avoid such deadly colli sions.
   The National Marine Fisheries Service recently proposed a mandatory speed limit along three areas of the East Coast to reduce what are called ship strikes, collisions between endangered North Atlantic right whales and large commercial vessels. The limit would be 10 knots, about 11.5 mph, for vessels 65 feet or longer in certain areas during times of the year when the whales are active there.
   The areas are spread from Florida to Massachusetts. There are no restrictions in the northern Gulf of Maine because of inconsistent boat traffic and limited knowledge of the whales' time in these waters.
   Restrictions in specific areas will be in effect when right whales are moving through those areas. The whales travel annually from their nursery grounds off Florida and Georgia to the Bay of Fundy. In other areas, speed restrictions can be imposed if whales are confirmed to be there. Ships can slow down or go around these areas with short-term restrictions.
   NMFS believes that collisions with ships are less likely to be fatal at slower speeds. Ship strikes are responsible for about half of all known, human-caused deaths of right whales, according to the agency. From 1975 to 2002 at least 38 right whales have been involved in such collisions. The whales, which are thought to number between 300 and 400, are especially susceptible to ship strikes because they swim near the surface, are slow moving and are not aware of their surroundings when eating.
   Past regulations have focused on fishing gear changes and putting areas where whales are known to live or pass through off limits to fishing. Lobstermen have starting using line that hovers in the water rather than dragging on the bottom and have stopped using knots in their lines since they can get stuck in a whale's mouth.
   Although there will be increased costs to shippers - and ultimately consumers - of re-routing ships or slowing them down, the agency is right to ask the shipping industry to share in the responsibility of not harming whales.

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