"The U.S. government has denied two petitions to immediately protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales during the species’ calving season, raising concerns that this population of whales will continue to decline without intervention. There are currently about 340 of these whales left, making them one of the most threatened cetaceans in the world.
The two petitions — one filed by a consortium of NGOs, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), and the other by the NGO Oceana — asked the U.S. government to provide emergency protection for North Atlantic whales (Eubalaena glacialis). They called for three measures aimed to reduce vessel collision, a leading cause of death for these animals. The proposed rules included establishing speed limits for ships in designated coastal zones between North Carolina and Florida during the calving season; requiring speed reductions outside of these zones when a single whale or a mother-and-calf pair is spotted; and making such rules applicable for vessels 35 feet (about 11 meters) in length and longer.
There are already some seasonal speed zones on the southeast U.S. coast, but experts say they’re not big enough to encompass the species’ entire range, especially as climate change alters the whales’ movements. Additionally, vessels don’t need to slow down outside these zones unless in the presence of three individual whales, and the current rules only apply to vessels larger than 65 feet, or about 20 meters. However, as experts point out, smaller vessels have been responsible for right whale deaths, as seen in a collision between a 54-foot (16.5-m) sportfishing yacht and a calf and mother off St. Augustine, Florida, in February 2021. The calf’s dead body washed onto the beach the next day, and the mother, known to researchers as Infinity, hasn’t been seen again."
Elizabeth Claire Alberts reports for Mongabay January 25, 2023.