With the stranding of the third whale in the last three weeks, the Mirror contacted NOAA fisheries about the fatalities. According to the North Atlantic office, “…these recent stranding events, the three humpback whales stranded in Virginia within the past two weeks that have all shown signs consistent with ship strike. This is a geographic area with a high amount of vessel traffic. When whale prey and feeding areas overlap with shipping lanes, ship strikes can occur.” Whales tend to cluster around the mouth of the bay to feed during a southerly migration – with menhaden in the area, it can be a great place to tank up before continuing south.
The Ship Strike Reduction Rule (50 CFR 224.105), requires that vessels may operate at a speed greater than 10 knots only if necessary to maintain a safe maneuvering speed in an area where conditions severely restrict vessel maneuverability as determined by the pilot or master.
If a deviation from the 10 knot speed restriction is necessary, the following information must be entered into the logbook:
– Reasons for deviation
– Speed at which vessel is operated
– Latitude and longitude at time of deviation
– Time and duration of deviation
– Master of the vessel shall sign and date the logbook entry
While the rule is mainly for the endangered northern right whale, it is useful for all whale species.
The Mirror followed with NOAA, “Who is responsible for enforcing the 10 knot speed as part of the Ship Strike Reduction Rule? In Hampton Roads, we have had 3 whale deaths in 2 weeks, which appear to be the result of ship strikes around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. These ships entering the mouth of the Bay, which is part of the restricted area this time of year, are traveling well over 10 knots. They are supposed to log these speeds, but where is it logged and how can the public find that data?”
The Mirror received this email response, “Thank you for your concern about the recent humpback whale deaths reported in Virginia. The vessel speed reduction rule is primarily enforced by NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement (OLE). Mariners and ship captains are required to make notations in a ship’s log book when deviating from the required speed. OLE monitors compliance with the rule through a number of methods, which may include a review of ships’ logbooks. These logbooks are not publicly available. If you suspect a violation, please report it to OLE at 1-800-853-1964.”