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Florida Today, June 28, 2012

Groups petition to extend speed limits on ships to protect whales

By Jim Waymer

Three nonprofit groups filed a legal petition Thursday asking the federal government to extend beyond 2013 a 10-knot speed limit on ships passing through special zones set up to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to extend the existing 10-knot speed limit on the Atlantic coast beyond a Dec. 9, 2013 expiration date and to expand some of the seasonal slow zones and times when ship speed limits apply.

The slow-speed zones do not extend immediately off Port Canaveral but ship speed is restricted to 10 knots (11.5 mph) from Nov. 15 to April 15 in a large rectangular area considered a right whale calving ground. The area extends out from shore, running from about 60 miles north of the Brevard-Volusia County line to between Brunswick, Ga. and Savannah, Ga.

The slow speed areas are depicted on maps posted at National Marine Fisheries Service’s site here: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdf/RW-noaa_factsheet_FINAL.pdf

“We’re not proposing to extend it at all in the southeast area,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director of The Humane Society of the United States.

The petition was filed by The Humane Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The groups’ petition calls on National Marine Fisheries to expand slow-speed areas in the North Atlantic, and the times when speed restrictions apply, including near Jeffrey’s Ledge and Jordan Basin in the Northeast and unprotected areas farther offshore in the Mid-Atlantic where whales are found each year.

National Marine Fisheries enacted the ship slow-speed rule in 2008 “because right whales were literally being run into the ground by the commercial shipping industry,” Ralph Henry, senior attorney with The Humane Society, said in a release. “Extending the existing regulation is a common sense step toward moving this critically endangered species out of the emergency room and onto the path to recovery.”

North Atlantic right whales have been listed under the Endangered Species Act for more than three decades, but ship strikes remain a top threat.

Only about 400 of the whales remain, making them among the rarest in the world.

One or two whales are killed or seriously injured annually by ship strikes, the environmental groups said, but more that go unreported.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton