Oceana study shows ships not slowing down in right whale waters

Published on
June 15, 2020

A recent study performed by Oceana Canada, using data from Global Fishing Watch, has shown that the majority of large vessels continue to exceed 10 knots in the Cabot Strait – an area with large populations of the highly-endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The data, taken over the period from 19 to 25 May, has shown that 72 percent of ships were not complying with a trial voluntary slowdown in an area including the Cabot Strait inside the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While some areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence have mandatory speed limits, the area in question only has a voluntary speed limit.

The most flagrant disregard for the slowdown area was a Canadian cargo ship, which traveled through the area at 21.1 knots. Oceana Canada said the amount of ships disregarding the slowdown area shows that the speed limit needs to be made mandatory.

“The solution is simple. The slowdown must be mandatory,” Oceana Canada said in a press release. “Research has shown that mandatory season-long speed limits of 10 knots in certain areas reduced lethal ship collision risk levels by 86 per cent. Ships must travel slower through all right whale habitat.”

Kim Elmslie, director of the right whale campaign for Oceana Canada, told the National Post that while the trial voluntary speed limit was a nice idea, it has shown the need for a mandatory speed limit.

“I appreciate that Transport Canada wanted to do this measure as a trial this year, but we don’t have time. The whales don’t have time to trial things,” she said. “We need the measure to be mandatory now.”

The news comes soon after NOAA released a national report on large whale entanglements for 2018. The report showed that entanglements of large whales increased significantly in 2018 over 2017.

However, most of that increase can be attributed to humpback whales, which were by far the most entangled species in 2018. A total of 76 humpback whales were entangled in 2018, up from 49 in 2017.

“As humpback whales are the most frequently reported entangled large whale species, representing 68.9 percent of all confirmed entanglements since 2007, the increase in total large whale entanglements confirmed in 2018 is mostly due to the considerable increase in humpback whale entanglements,” the NOAA report stated.

However, right whales did see more entanglements in 2018 than in 2017. Four right whales were found entangled in 2018, versus just two entanglements in 2017. Of those, one was found dead, two are presumed to still be entangled, and one was fully disentangled.

“Although the U.S. confirmed right whale entanglements were near average, the overall entanglement of this species remains of grave concern,” NOAA wrote. “NOAA Fisheries has an open Unusual Mortality Event (UME) investigation for this species, based on a high number of dead whales discovered in Canadian and U.S. waters in 2017 and 2018, several of which were determined to have died from entanglements.”

Those entanglements include one found dead off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, one found entangled and dead off Nantucket in Massachusetts, among others. 

Image courtesy of Oceana Canada

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500