Speeding ships kill endangered North Atlantic right whales in the US

North Atlantic right whale swimming in the ocean
North Atlantic right whale, photo: Canva

Most vessels are breaking speed limits in areas meant to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in the United States, a report said Wednesday. Only around 360 North Atlantic right whales are still alive.

The non-profit organization Oceana analyzed ship and boat speeds from 2017 to 2020 in speed zones established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) along the US Atlantic coast.

Almost 90 percent of vessels went too fast in mandatory speed zones, the study found.

Collisions with vessels are one of two leading causes of injury and death for North Atlantic right whales. Entanglement in fishing gear used to catch crab and fish is the other leading cause of North Atlantic right whale deaths.

The zone where boats and vessels broke the speed limits the most was located in a corridor between North Carolina and Georgia.

“Vessels are speeding, North Atlantic right whales are dying, and there’s not enough accountability,” said Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana.

Two-thirds of vessels exceeding the limits operated under foreign flags, and cargo vessels were the leading offenders.

The study focused on vessels 65 feet (19.8 meters) and larger because they are required to broadcast their signals continuously.

However, smaller ships can be lethal, too. In February, NOAA reported a calf died from propeller wounds, broken ribs, and a fractured skull from a collision with a 54-foot (16.4 meters) recreational fishing vessel.

“Scientists estimate that even a single human-caused North Atlantic right whale death a year threatens the species’ chances of recovery,” Webber said.

Once, there were 21,000 North Atlantic right whales, but they were hunted close to extinction in the early 20th century, with only around 100 remaining by the 1920s.

Whaling North Atlantic right whales was banned in 1935, leading their numbers to bounce back to as many as 483, but the progress has since been reversed with only 360 remaining.

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