The Canadian government announced today that it will require ships to slow down in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in an effort to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. The temporary measure mandates that vessels over 20 meters (65 feet) traveling between Quebec’s north shore and northern Prince Edward Island slow to 10kts or face fines of up to $25,000. A similar measure has been permanently implemented along the US east coast where seasonal speed restrictions in right whale habitat have significantly reduced the risk of ship strike deaths to North Atlantic right whales.
The effort was triggered by the unprecedented loss of at least 12 endangered North Atlantic right whales since April of this year with 10 of those deaths occurring in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. While not all carcasses have been examined, those which were point to the human caused threats of ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. Fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remain making them one of the world’s most endangered animals. While efforts in the US have been implemented to reduce ship strikes and entanglements to the species in US waters, current proposals to rescind protection measures in the US also put right whales at risk.
According to Regina Asmutis-Silvia, Executive Director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s North American office (WDC-NA), “We applaud the efforts of Canada to take action to address the risk of ship strikes in light of the catastrophic loss of endangered North Atlantic right whales. We hope they will similarly take action to reduce entanglements.” At the same time, WDC urges the US government to keep protective legislations in place and deny permits which would allow oil and gas exploration in right whale habitat.
For over 12 years, WDC’s North American office has implemented a program specifically dedicated to the continued survival of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
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The map above shows the 10-knot zone in the Gulf of St Lawrence, along with an overview of each right whale sighted this year (2017). Courtesy of Brett Ruskin/Twitter