Ships and boats, the only ocean-bound entities that rival whales in size, can also kill the giants of the sea in an instant when they hurtle through whale habitat. In fact, collisions with ships are the one of the most frequent causes of premature death for several highly endangered marine mammals, including the North Atlantic right whale, the blue whale, and the Florida manatee. Each of these species is already so depleted that the loss of only a few individuals can mean the difference between recovery and being pushed further toward extinction. The numbers are staggering: In Florida, as many as 90 manatees a year are dying from boat strikes; at least six whales were killed by collisions with vessels in 2010, and more than 50 large whales have died off the California coast in the past decade; and in the Atlantic, half of all right whale deaths are caused by ship strikes. These deaths are all unnecessary. Collisions can be avoided by changing shipping routes to avoid areas where whales congregate, using existing technology to alert captains to nearby whales, and, most effectively, implementing mandatory speed limits for ships. Slowing ship traffic not only prevents lethal collisions with whales and other creatures; it also reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Center is also working to protect species from ship strikes on both coasts. After our 2012 petition asking the federal government to keep the existing ship speed limits in North Atlantic right whale habitat — speed limits that would otherwise expire in December 2013 — the National Marine Fisheries Service did just that, just before the set expiration date. The rules require vessels 65 feet in length and greater to slow to 10 knots (about 11 miles per hour) in areas and at times when right whales are present.