Despite the fact that North Atlantic right whales have been listed under the Endangered Species Act for more than three decades, ship strikes remain one of the top threats to their survival. Fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remain, making these whales among the rarest in the world. With one or two whales killed or seriously injured each year by ship strikes, and likely more that go unreported, their future is in jeopardy. The whales’ coastal feeding, breeding and nursing grounds coincide with some of the busiest shipping areas in the United States.
In 2012 WDC and peer conservation organizations submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service to extend the existing 10-knot speed limit on the Atlantic coast beyond its December 2013 expiration date and to expand the areas and times when ship speed limits apply to reduce collisions that kill endangered whales. This petition was necessary because the current rule, passed in 2008, includes a sunset clause that states the rule will expire unless the NMFS affirmatively acts to extend it.
After their petition was received by NOAA WDC launched the Act Right Now campaign to educate and activate the public about how they could help save this important species. Since December of 2012, WDC has been collating signatures and comments from concerned citizen around the world. In June of 2013 NOAA proposed to make permanent the rules implemented in 2008 to reduce the number of North Atlantic right whales killed by ship strikes each year. Their announcement triggered a 60 day open forum for the public to submit their comments on the matter. At that time WDC kicked their efforts into high gear and began to collate the signatures and comments from their supporters and the general public.
On August 5th, the close of this pivotal phase of WDC’s Act Right Now campaign, WDC had received over 75,000 comments and signatures in support of extending the ship strike rule and implementing additional protections for right whales. At the time comments were due to NOAA, WDC had determined that 74,525 comments and signatures met the criteria needed for official submission to the government.
“More than 75,000 people throughout the US and around the world took the time to affirm that North Atlantic right whales are worth saving – and that the ship strike rule needs to be made permanent – we hope that NMFS listens to the people and recognizes the impact of this rule on the survival of this species.” Stated Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC-NA Executive Director and Senior Biologist.
While WDC’s and other conservation organizations’ official comments influence policy makers, the comments from citizens are what can truly make a difference. Although WDC is a force of advocacy and scientific information, public voices help to communicate the need for change to our government, and echo why protecting right whales matters to many outside of the scientific community. This kind of strong public support shows policy makers and elected officials alike that this issue matters.
“Submitting the signatures and comments of others to NOAA was a great example of the culmination of all WDC’s efforts paying off in a grand display of support to save the North Atlantic right whale” commented Emily Ryane Moss, WDC’s Act Right Now Campaign Lead.
More on the Ship Strike Rule …
Fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remain, and their survival is constantly threatened by human activity, including vessel strikes and entanglements. In 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) enacted a “ship strike rule” to help protect these critically endangered whales. The rule requires vessels 65ft and larger to slow to 10 knots in places right whales live, a tactic that has been proven by numerous studies to significantly reduce the risk of fatal ship strikes to right whales. NOAA’s own data show that slowing ships reduces the chance of a fatal ship strike by 80-90%. Despite these encouraging numbers, the rule is currently set to expire on December 9, 2013.