Poll finds public supports right whale protections, as another study shows ships still ignoring them
A new poll performed by The Pew Charitable Trusts has shown the majority of residents on the U.S. East Coast support additional protections for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale, even as a new report by Oceana indicates that voluntary ship speed limits intended to protect the whales from vessel strikes are largely ignored.
The Pew poll found that as many as 88 percent of those polled said that it is important that the federal government protect right whales, and more than half – 53 percent – said it is very important. The poll also indicated the those polled prefer fishermen use gear that doesn’t harm whales, and that they want the government to help pay for the gear.
NOAA proposed new regulations to protect right whales in early 2021, after a federal court ruled that the U.S. lobster fishery is violating the Endangered Species Act due to it potentially adversely affecting whale populations.
Coinciding the poll, Pew and partners Environment America, Environment Massachusetts, Georgia Wildlife Foundation, and One Hundred Miles submitted a request for emergency action to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who was confirmed to the position in March. The request asks Raimondo to close high-risk areas off of New England to fishing gear with ropes when right whales are present.
“Closing high-risk areas to fishing gear with ropes when right whales are likely to be present provides the highest conservation outcome for the lowest economic cost. Public opinion, the law, and the science agree that we can and must save right whales, and Pew is focused on finding solutions so that both right whales and fishing can survive far into the future,” The Pew Charitable Trusts Senior Officer Katharine Deuel said.
As Pew and partners were pushing for more protections from fishing impacts, the findings of a recently released Oceana report showed that ships were largely ignoring voluntary speed limit zones along the east coast established to prevent collisions with right whales.
According to the report, which analyzed vessel speeds from 2017 to 2020, almost 85 percent of vessels in voluntary speed limit zones were ignoring the speed limit. That total contrasts areas with mandatory speed limits, where compliance was almost 90 percent.
Collisions with vessels are a leading cause of injury and death for right whales.
“Vessels are speeding, North Atlantic right whales are dying, and there’s not enough accountability,” Oceana Campaign Director Whitney Webber said. “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.”
Oceana said the solution to the speeding is to create permanently designated speed limits in areas where whales are expected to be, rather than using voluntary speed limits.
“North Atlantic right whales are dying from vessel strikes and NOAA must take action to prevent this. Killing even one is a problem, as scientists estimate that even a single human-caused North Atlantic right whale death a year threatens the species’ chances of recovery,” Webber said. “If NOAA is serious about its mandate to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, speed zones must be designated in the areas where whales currently are, and they must be enforced. Until speed zone rules are mandatory and violators held accountable, North Atlantic right whales will continue to die on NOAA’s watch.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA