NOAA Makes Recommendations to Reduce Collisions with Whales

Friday, November 17, 2006
NOAA this week urged ship captains to use new recommended routes when entering or leaving the Florida ports of Jacksonville and Fernandina, and Brunswick, Ga., as well as in Cape Cod Bay off Massachusetts. These new routes are expected to reduce the chances of ship strikes with endangered right whales.

The recommended routes take into account safety and economic impact to the mariner. Although the routes are voluntary, they will appear on both electronic and paper NOAA nautical charts no later than November 30. The new designations will help mariners decrease whale strikes by reducing vessel activity in areas frequented by ships and whales.

North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered marine mammal populations in the world, and are highly vulnerable to ship collisions. Pregnant females and females with calves are known to have been struck by ships along the east coast in recent years. The right whale population is small--around 300--and many scientists believe recovery has stalled, making the few reproductively active females even more important to population recovery. Right whales typically travel south from waters off Canada and New England to calving and nursery areas off Florida and Georgia in winter, traversing areas frequented by large ships. Females and their calves then return to more northerly feeding grounds, aggregating in Cape Cod Bay during the spring, also an area with substantial ship traffic. NOAA scientists have been working to better understand the year-round distribution of right whales along the east coast. The agency has also studied ship traffic, particularly around large east coast ports. Combining these results, and working with the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA scientists placed the recommended routes where vessels would be less likely to encounter right whales, in addition to minimizing economic impacts and insuring safety of navigation.

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