Report finds ships racing through slow zones to protect right whales

A North Atlantic Right Whale breaches with a ship in the background
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A report by environmental group Oceana has revealed that more than 80% of ships along the U.S. East Coast sail through “slow zones” designated by environmental regulators to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. Shipping accidents are one of the leading causes of death for these critically endangered whales, with only 340 remaining. Oceana analyzed boat speeds between November 2020 and July 2022 in slow zones established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and found that 84% of boats went through mandatory slow zones and 82% through voluntary slow zones. NOAA introduced a 10-knot limit for vessels longer than 65 feet (20 meters) in 2008.

Gib Brogan, head of the Oceana campaign, emphasized the need for regulators to increase enforcement of speed limits, stating that “boats go too fast and whales die.” NOAA disputes the findings and stated that its own evaluation showed 80% compliance with speed limits in the zones, though its methodology differed from Oceana’s. It was also noted that ships sometimes enter the zones at speeds over 10 knots before slowing down. Oceana obtained its data from Global Fishing Watch, an international nonprofit that tracks vessel speeds and locations using satellite imagery providers.

The report highlights the ongoing issue of ships not adhering to speed limits in areas designated to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. With the whale population already at a critically low level, shipping accidents pose a significant threat to their survival. The findings call for increased enforcement of speed limits in these slow zones to prevent further harm to these endangered animals.

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