Report says vessels speed in right whale protection zones 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report has found that most vessels are exceeding speed limits in areas designated to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.  

Oceana, an ocean advocacy organization, analyzed vessel speeds from 2017 to 2020 in speed zones set up along the east coast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and found noncompliance was as high as almost 90 percent in mandatory speed zones.  

“Vessels are speeding, North Atlantic right whales are dying, and there’s not enough accountability,” said Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana. “Oceana’s analysis shows that speeding vessels are rampant throughout North Atlantic right whales’ migration route, all along the East Coast, and in both mandatory and voluntary speed zones. North Atlantic right whales are dying from vessel strikes and NOAA must take action to prevent this.”  

Oceana said it also found as high as 85 percent of vessels were not cooperating with speeds in voluntary slow-down areas for the whales.  

Collisions with vessels are one of the two leading causes of injury and death for North Atlantic right whales. The analysis focused on vessels 65 feet or larger that are required to use public tracking devices. 

There are no seasonal speed zones off Maine, though there are some voluntary zones triggered in the more southern region of the Gulf of Maine when the whales do pass through the area.  

In 2020, 65.3 percent of vessels that went through these voluntary zones in the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Maine to the tip of Cape Cod, did not cooperate.  

Oceana found that the highest level of compliance was to Maine’s southerly neighbors at a mandatory 10-knot speed zone off Cape Cod, where about two-thirds of vessels complied. The worst compliance, with about 90 percent of vessels violating a 10-knot speed limit, was off North Carolina and Georgia.  

Other areas of poor compliance were ports of New York and New Jersey, calving and nursery grounds from Georgia to Florida, Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. About two-thirds of vessels that exceeded 10-knot speed limits operated under foreign flags, according to Oceana.  

The nonprofit called on NOAA to revise its speed regulations in the Atlantic to create better compliance.  

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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