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Reducing Ship Strikes to North Atlantic Right Whales



right whale PSA video
PSA Video: Slow to 10 Knots

Credit: NOAA

right whale with indication of ship strike
Right Whale Photos & Videos

northeast right whale sightings map
Northeast U.S. Sightings
note: blue lines depict shipping lanes for major ports
(click for map and date range)

southeast right whale sightings map
Southeast U.S. Sightings
Note: blue lines depict shipping lanes for major ports
(click for map and date range)

Petition to Exclude Areas from Vessel Speed Restrictions

We received a petition for rulemaking to exclude Federally-maintained dredged entrance channels and pilot boarding areas for ports from New York to Jacksonville from vessel speed restrictions. Please see the Federal Register notice for more information. The comment period closed on March 3, 2014.

NOAA extends rule reducing risk of whale ship strikes along U.S. East Coast

NOAA finalized a rule in December 2013 maintaining vessel speed restrictions implemented in 2008 to reduce the threat of collisions between ships and North Atlantic right whales, which were scheduled to expire in December 2013. Removal of the expiration date contained in the 2008 rule allows all the existing provisions of the rule to remain in place.

More information can be found in the press release and in the Federal Register notice of the final rule (also see literature cited in the final rule). The June 2013 proposed rule in the Federal Register is also available.

With only about 450 in existence, North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world. Their slow movements, time spent at the surface, and time spent near the coast make them highly vulnerable human activities, especially being struck by ships.

Speed Restrictions
All vessels 65 ft (19.8 m) or longer must travel at 10 knots or less in certain locations (SMAs) [pdf] along the east coast of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard at certain times of the year to reduce the threat of ship collisions with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Vessel Routing

  1. Great South Channel Area to be Avoided (ATBA)
    On June 1, 2009, a voluntary seasonal ATBA [pdf] was established for ships weighing 300 gross tons or more. The ATBA will be in effect each year from April 1 to July 31, when right whales face their highest risk of ship strikes in this area.
    » More information on the ATBA

  2. Boston, MA: Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS)
    On June 1, 2009, the North-South lanes of the TSS servicing Boston were modified to reduce the threat of vessel collisions with right whales and other whale species.
    (1) This change narrows each of the lanes from 2 miles to 1.5 miles;
    (2) The width of these lanes are now consistent with the East-West Boston TSS lanes; and
    (3) The western boundary of the TSS remains unchanged. This modification moves ships away from the greatest density of right whales and thus minimizes the overlap between whales and ships.
    (The TSS servicing Boston was first modified on July 1, 2007.)
    » More information on the TSS

  3. Recommended Routes in Key Right Whale Habitats in FL, GA, and MA
    In November 2006, NOAA established a set of recommended vessel routes in 4 locations to reduce the likelihood of ship collisions in key right whale habitats.

Report of Workshop on Technologies to Reduce Ship Strikes
In July 2008, NOAA Fisheries convened a Workshop to Identify and Assess Technologies to Reduce Ship Strikes of Large Whales [pdf]. The goals of the workshop were to:

  1. identify existing or emerging technologies that might be useful in reducing ship strikes
  2. assess the feasibility of each in reducing ship strikes
  3. identify research and development timelines needed to make a given technology useful in reducing the threat

More Information

Updated: March 4, 2014

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