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
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
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.
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.