NOAA – North Atlantic right whales are one of the world’s most endangered large whale species. With their population numbering only around 400 animals, the population is in decline. Vessel collisions (strikes) are one of the major threats that these animals face. That’s why we’re announcing Right Whale Slow Zones—we’re asking vessel operators to get involved in reducing the risk of vessel strike in U.S. waters.
Any sized vessel can present a problem if it strikes a whale. A vessel can leave an injured whale with wounds that make it vulnerable to other threats or even cause its death. This season alone, two calves have been struck by vessels in U.S. waters. One calf has not been sighted since it was struck by a boat in mid-January off the coast of Georgia. The other was found dead off the coast of New Jersey in June with evidence of multiple vessel strikes. Early evidence suggests that small vessels may have been involved in at least one of these collisions. These recent losses remind us that more needs to be done to reduce the risk of vessel strike to right whales.
Right Whale Slow Zones
Through the new Slow Zones campaign, we will map and provide coordinates to vessel operators indicating areas where right whales have been detected. We are asking all vessel operators to take precautions for 15 days by slowing to 10 knots or less in those areas. Right Whale Slow Zones can occur in waters from Maine through Virginia.
Using “Sound” Science to Protect a Species
The Slow Zones program uses sound collected from underwater acoustic listening devices to detect right whales. These scientific data, in addition to visual sightings, will allow us to be more proactive in addressing the risks all boats pose to right whales. It will also enable us to better notify researchers, managers—and now all boaters—of the presence of right whales in the area. It complements our voluntary Dynamic Management Area program for larger ships.
A special thanks to our North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Plan Northeast U.S. Implementation Team who provided guidance, expertise, and support that provided the foundation for this initiative.
Expanding Existing Efforts
Since 2008, NOAA Fisheries has worked with numerous partners to help reduce the risk of vessel strike from larger vessels (65 feet or longer). Partners in the Greater Atlantic Region include:
- Shipping industry
- United States Coast Guard
- NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement
- Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
While these measures and partnerships are helping, right whales continue to be at risk. Boat operators often don’t know where right whales are. We want to help all vessel operators learn where these whales are located so they can slow down and reduce this risk, both to the animals and themselves.