Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Right Whales: speed regulation to avoid ship collisions

The New York Times recently reported that the National Marine Fisheries Service has adopted a long-debated regulation requiring large ships (over 65 feet) to reduce speed to less than 10 knots in certain coastal areas on the east coast from Massachusetts to Florida.

The purpose of this speed restriction is an attempt to avoid hitting and injuring or killing Right Whales that populate the selected areas. Scientists estimate that only about 400 right whales exist today, even though hunting them was made illegal in 1935. These whales were so heavily hunted in the 1800's and early 1900's that, even with a 70+ year moratorium, their future is tenuous at best.

One or two whales are reported killed each year by ship collision - and that's just the reported cases. With a population so small, the loss of even one whale can have a negative impact.

This regulation was a long time in coming due to political pressure exerted by the shipping industry who refute the correlation between speed and the possibility of collision. The regulation will take effect in less than 60 days and will be subject to review in 5 years based on scientific monitoring of its effectiveness. Let's hope the results are positive for the whale's sake.

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