Thursday, November 25, 2010

{Press} Del. family sights right whale on Indian Inlet

Associated Press | November 24, 2010

"REHOBOTH BEACH, Del.—A Delaware family has sighted a rare right whale on the Indian Inlet near the mouth of the Delaware River and got video of the creature.

Matt Mundok and his family were bass fishing on the inlet on Sunday when they saw the whale. Mundok shot video on a Blackberry and posted it on YouTube. The family did not know what kind of whale it was until marine biologists contacted them after seeing the video.

Staff at the New England Aquarium saw the video and identified the right whale as being between 1 and 3 years old and 35 to 40 feet long. There are about 400 right whales remaining on the planet.

Aquarium staff say there have been a number of sightings in the Delaware Bay in the past week."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

{Press} Group Protects Whales from Sky

ABC News 4 Charleston, South Carolina | Neville Miller | November 23, 2010

"CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keeping an eye out for whales in the ocean below from 1000 feet up, that's the task of the right whale observing team with EcoHealth Alliance.

The group flies in patterns of our coastline several days to track the massive mammals as they migrate southward from New England to give birth in warmer water.

"We've had groups of five to ten whales. We never really know how many whales are going to be there and some can be underneath the water anywhere from five to ten, to 15 minutes at a time," explained Melanie White with EcoHealth Alliance.

With a combination of good weather and luck, the EcoHealth Alliance team keeps track of each of the massive mammals by snapping photos of them.

Besides documenting each whale, the team also alerts authorities of their position to steer ships clear of the area.

"Ship strikes are one of the biggest issues or threats for right whales right now, especially here, they are migrating through, some of them are calving and they don't pay a lot of attention to the ships in the area," explained Dianna Schulte, team leader of the whale surveying team.

Protecting each whale is an important task as only as small number of the whales still exists.

"Historic populations before whaling began were between 10,000 and 50,000, so having under 500 shows how critically endangered they are," Schulte said.

The EcoHealth Alliance team hopes to rebound after last year when they saw about half as many whales as the record year in 2008, when they spotted nearly 100 individuals.

"We're hoping for an excellent calving season, two years ago was a record calving season with 39 born, last year we had 19, which is still pretty good," Schulte said.

Through the first full week of surveying, the team has seen two whales. The flights will continue through April 15th and is paid for by the State Ports Authority and NOAA."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

{Press} Right Whales Return To Coast

GPB News | Susanna Capelouto | November 23, 2010

Brunswick, Ga. —
"Right whale calving season has begun along the Georgia coast. A new rule slowing down large ships appears to be helping the endangered species.

Right whales spend the winter months in the waters between Brunswick and St.Augustine, Florida.

That’s where the females give birth to about 20 calves each year. Clay George is a wildlife biologist who monitors the whales for the state of Georgia.

“Down here in the South East our primary concern is collisions with ships," he says. "We have some busy ports and Naval facilities on the Georgia and Florida coast.”

George says a two year old rule requiring large ships to slow down to 10 knots or less in waters used by right whales appears to be working. He says there haven’t been any collisions since its enforcement."

Monday, November 22, 2010

{Press} Whales arriving earlier this year

Editor's Notes (by Christin Khan):

- 19 calves is not an unusual number for right whales (40 was a record high)

- There have been at least 4 documented right whale mortalities since January 2009

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The St. Augustine Record | LORRAINE THOMPSON | November 22, 2010

"The whales are coming.

Although the North Atlantic right whales usually begin entering local waters in December, they may arrive earlier this season.

According to Joy Hampp, director of the Marineland Right Whale Project, the South Carolina/Georgia right whale survey team began flying surveys on Nov. 15 and reported two North Atlantic right whales off the coast of Georgia on Thursday.

Once a thriving species, fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales are known to exist, making them the world's most endangered whales.

Each year pregnant females migrate from the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, and the Gulf of Maine to the coastal waters of the southeastern United States to give birth and nurse their young. Last year, 19 calves were born in Southeast waters, the only known calving grounds.

The experts surmise that last year's colder than normal water temperatures contributed to the relatively low birth number, or it may have been the whales' birthing cycle. During the 2008-09 season a record of 40 calves were counted.

Females give birth every three to five years to a single calf after a 12- to 14-month gestation. Calves are completely dependent on their mothers for about one year. Right whales mature slowly and females are typically 9 to 10 years old before they give birth to their first calf. Studies show that males are 15 years old or older before they sire a calf. Right whales usually migrate alone or as a mother-calf pair.

"There has not been a documented right whale death since January 2009," Hampp said. "Last season was the second year that the speed reduction laws, requiring most vessels greater than 65 feet to maintain speeds of 10 knots or less in critical right whale areas, were in effect. While it is too early to know if this is making a difference, the absence of whale deaths is encouraging."

However, right whales continue to become entangled in fishing gear and have been photographed with new propeller scars, so the threats to their survival remain present.

Three years ago, whale watchers observed the adventures of right whale No. 2753, Arpeggio. She appeared off St. Augustine in mid-December and lingered in the area for two weeks with her first calf.

"Since the minimum interval between calves is three years," said Hampp, "we could see her again this season."

Another female, No. 1622, has been seen off St. Augustine and to the south every three years since 2002 with her second, third and fourth calves. "We last saw her in 2008, so if she repeats her pattern, she may be visiting our area this season, too, with her fifth calf."

*

WHALE WATCHERS NEEDED

Experienced and new whale watchers, as part of a network of volunteers, are needed to help monitor the whale traffic in our area. Training is provided. Seasonal visitors as well as residents are invited to attend training sessions.

A training session will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Anastasia Island Branch Library, 124 Sea Grove Main St. (off A1A at A Street) in St. Augustine Beach. Other sessions are scheduled on Dec. 4 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast and from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at the Ormond Beach Public Library. An orientation for all volunteers will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 2 at the Center for Marine Studies, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, 9505 Ocean Shore Blvd. in Marineland.

Although the official whale watching survey is scheduled to begin Jan. 3, the whales don't always follow that calendar. Last year the first whale sighting occurred in mid-December.

For information on the volunteer program, call 461-4058 or e-mail marinelandrightwhale@gmail.com. Early whale sighting reports should be directed to the toll-free Marine Resources Counsel Whale Hotline at (888) 979-4253. Any local sightings will be passed on to Hampp.

*

BOATERS AND SHIP RESTRICTIONS

Boaters must keep at least 500 yards away from right whales. Federal law requires vessels 65 feet and longer to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern United States. Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid- Atlantic from Nov. 1 through April 30, and in the southeastern U.S. calving area from Nov. 15 through April 15. For more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, go to www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

{Press} Whales have to shout in noisy oceans

Practical Fishkeeping | November 17, 2010

"Our seas are getting louder, and in an effort to be heard over the noise of commercial, naval and recreational shipping traffic, oil installations, wind farms and the like, whales have had to raise their voices.

Marine biologists monitored 14 North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, which is an area with a high level of human-generated noise in the form of shipping traffic, resulting in a chronic noise that overlaps the frequency range of right whale communication signals.

They found that as the background noise level rose, so did the whale's voices - in fact two of the whales in a particularly noisy area, were practically shouting.

Having to shout to be heard obviously uses up more energy for the whale, but there's also a chance that it distorts the sound of the call to other whales.

It's also been found that whales are gradually changing the frequency of their calls - it's now about an octave higher than it was in studies carried out in the 1950s

Sound is vital to whales. They use it in communication, navigation and feeding. Researchers are worried that increased noise levels may force whales to stay closer to one another, where their calls can be heard. This will reduce the area in which they breed and find food.

For more information see the paper: Susan Parks et al (2010). Individual right whales call louder in increased environmental noise. Biology Letters."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

{Press} Right whales head south to Georgia

Savannahnow.com |Mary Landers | November 16, 2010

Boaters asked to be alert for this highly endangered species

"On Monday, researchers began their annual aerial survey of North Atlantic right whales off the coast from Charleston to Sapelo Island. A similar survey south of Sapelo begins Dec. 1.

"During our aerial surveys, we document the births of new calves, record sightings of returning whales and alert shipping officials about the whereabouts of these slow-moving mammals to help keep them out of harm's way," said Cynthia R. Taylor, the associate vice president of the Aquatic Conservation Program at EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust), which conducts the surveys.

"The biggest threats to right whales are from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear," she said. "So we immediately alert rescue crews when we see whales that are in trouble."

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ask that all boaters be on the lookout for these highly endangered whales - with a population of about 450 - that migrate to this area each winter to give birth.

Boaters are asked to report whale sightings and to keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species.

Right whales are as large as a bus but can be tough to spot because they are dark with no dorsal fin, and they often swim slowly at or just below the water's surface.

These "urban" whales stick close to the coast, and as a result, their migration routes intersect with busy shipping lanes and ports, making the whales vulnerable to vessel strikes. Ship strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to the recovery of North Atlantic right whales.

Last year, 19 calves were born in Southeast waters, their only known calving grounds. The year before, a record 40 calves were counted.

The 2009-10 season was a slow one for the whale survey team whose winter base is St. Simons Island, said Patricia Naessig, who heads up that EcoHealth Alliance team. The number of whales spotted last year in the area from Sapelo to Cumberland dropped 75 percent compared to the year before, she said.

"We think that it was quite likely connected to the low water temperatures that occurred off the coast of Georgia last season," Naessig wrote in an e-mail. "A very high number of whales were still migrating through Georgia waters last season, but we suspect that the cold water temperatures caused the whales to continue heading down to Florida waters and not remain in Georgia waters for extended periods."

The number of right whales recorded in their summer feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy this summer was also low, said Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. The New England Aquarium reported that 53 individual whales were seen, including only five mother/calf pairs.

"We presume that their prey of (tiny crustaceans called) copepods was not there in the numbers expected," he said. "Most of the sightings were small groups. It's concerning because the females need multiple years of good foraging to calve."

George and other DNR staffers prepared themselves last week for the right whale migration by practicing techniques used to remove fishing gear from entangled whales.

"It's important because they've found two newly entangled whales in New England over the last two months," George said.
Report a right whale sighting
NOAA Fisheries Service encourages people to report sightings of dead, injured, or entangled whales to NOAA at 877-433-8299.
BOATER AND SHIP RESTRICTIONS
Boaters must keep at least 500 yards away from right whales. Federal law requires vessels 65 feet long and greater to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern United States. Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid Atlantic from Nov. 1 through April 30, and in the southeast U.S. calving area from Nov. 15 through April 15. For more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, visit nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike."

{Press} NOAA Enforces Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule

NOAA | November 16, 2010

Vessels charged for allegedly speeding where endangered whales calve, feed, migrate

NOAA today announced it is issuing notices of violations proposing civil administrative penalties against seven vessels for allegedly violating seasonal speed limits designed to protect one of the most endangered whales in the world. These civil administrative penalties are the first assessed since the Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule was enacted on Dec. 9, 2008.

Because there are as few as 350 North Atlantic right whales still in existence, the whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule restricts vessels of 65 feet or greater to speeds of 10 knots or less in seasonal management areas along the East Coast.

The NOVAs issued this week focus on vessels that allegedly traveled multiple times through the seasonal management areas for right whales at speeds well in excess of the 10 knots allowed under the regulations.

Penalty assessments in these NOVAs range from $16,500 to $49,500, depending on the frequency of the violations. The ships' owners and operators have 30 days to respond to NOVAs by paying the assessed penalty, seeking to have it modified, or requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge.

These seasonal management areas went into effect Nov. 1 in areas from Rhode Island to Brunswick, Ga., and went into effect yesterday for areas from Brunswick, Ga., to St. Augustine, Fla. Designed to reduce the chances of right whales being injured or killed by ships, the speed restrictions are based on the migration pattern of right whales and are in effect through April 30 each year. Maps of these areas and a compliance guide are available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) focused on outreach during the rule’s first season, sending letters to alleged violators to educate them about the new federal regulation. The Notices of Violation and Assessment (NOVAs) issued by NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation yesterday involve alleged violations of the speed restrictions during the second season the regulations were in place, November 2009 through April 2010.

“Right whales are a highly endangered and important species,” said special agent Stuart Cory, OLE's national program manager for protected resources. “It is important to remind those that use and share the same habitat as right whales that this rule was put into place to protect these mammals. Compliance with this rule is one way NOAA is striving to prevent right whales from extinction. The species' recovery is dependent upon the protection of each remaining whale.”

The mission of NOAA OLE is to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation's marine resources. To report a suspected violation, contact the NOAA OLE national hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/usnoaagov."

Monday, November 15, 2010

{Press} Protecting Whales From the Sky: EcoHealth Alliance's Annual Aerial Surveys of Endangered Right Whale Populations

PR Newswire (Press Release) | November 15, 2010

NEW YORK, Nov. 15, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust), is gearing up for the organization's annual aerial surveys for the protection of endangered North Atlantic right whales. For the fourth consecutive year, the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) has pledged up to $200,000 per year for a total of five years to increase aerial surveys for the protection of endangered right whales off the coast of S.C. Aerial surveys provide valuable information to wildlife conservationists and researchers, including location and photo-identification of right whales during their winter calving season off the Southeastern coast of the U.S. "Through productive partnerships, we can develop new port business while also enhancing our natural environment," said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. "We'll continue to grow in a responsible way."

"Right whale populations were nearly hunted to extinction by whalers long ago, and they've been fighting their way back from the brink ever since," said Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance. "With fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales alive today, EcoHealth Alliance's Aquatic Conservation Program is a key factor in ensuring the ongoing viability of this beautiful, critically endangered mammal."

North Atlantic right whales migrate from November through April to give birth to their calves off of the Southeast coast, which is the only known calving ground for the species. Aerial surveys give the EcoHealth Alliance team a bird's eye view of whales in relation to the heavily trafficked coastline navigated by cargo, military, and recreational boats. Flights are conducted an average of two days a week during the best weather conditions; the teams log an average of 600 hours of flight time at the conclusion of the calving season in April 2010.

"During our aerial surveys, we document the births of new calves, record sightings of returning whales, and alert shipping officials about the whereabouts of these slow moving mammals, to help keep them out of harm's way," said Cynthia R. Taylor, associate vice president of the Aquatic Conservation Program at EcoHealth Alliance. "The biggest threats to right whales are from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear, so we immediately alert rescue crews when we see whales that are in trouble."

Survey flights originate from Mt. Pleasant regional airport near Charleston, S.C. from November 15, 2010 through April 15, 2011 and from the Malcolm McKinnon airport on St. Simons Island, Ga. from December 31, 2010 through March 31, 2011. EcoHealth Alliance's aerial survey team in South Carolina, which covers the airspace from Cape Romain, S.C. to Fripp Island, S.C., includes team leader Dianna Schulte, Jonathan Gwalthney and Melanie White. The aerial survey team in Georgia, which covers the airspace from Sapelo Island, GA to Cumberland Island, GA includes team leader Patricia Naessig, Julianne Kearney, Lisa Barry, and Ashley Dobrovich.

EcoHealth Alliance partners in its efforts with The South Carolina Ports Authority, The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, who provide funding annually for the intensive survey effort. For more information about this EcoHealth Alliance program, visit http://www.ecohealthalliance.org/wildlife/9-protecting_endangered_right_whales.

About EcoHealth Alliance

Building on 40 years of innovative science, EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust) is a non-profit international conservation organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and safeguarding human health from the emergence of disease. The organization develops ways to combat the effects of damaged ecosystems on human and wildlife health. It specializes in saving biodiversity in human-dominated ecosystems where ecological health is most at risk from habitat loss, species imbalance, pollution and other environmental issues. EcoHealth Alliance scientists also identify and examine the causes affecting the health of global ecosystems in the U.S. and more than 20 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance's strength is founded on innovations in research, education, training, and support from a global network of EcoHealth Alliance conservation partners. For more information, visit http://ecohealthalliance.org. EcoHealth Alliance is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization.

About The South Carolina State Ports Authority

The South Carolina State Ports Authority, established by the state's General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport facilities in Charleston and Georgetown, handling international commerce valued at more than $62 billion annually while receiving no direct taxpayer subsidy."

{Press} Team Seeks Whale Mating Ground

Fenceviewer | November 15, 2010

"BAR HARBOR — A joint international team of right whale scientists from the New England Aquarium in Boston and the Canadian Whale Institute in New Brunswick will be conducting surveys in search of a potential mating ground for right whales in the Gulf of Maine this winter. Senior scientist Dr. Moira Brown will be leading the research team on four survey cruises from Mount Desert Island out to an area around Jordan Basin and Outer Falls.

An international team that will include researchers from Bar Harbor plans to launch a search from a Bar Harbor Whale Watch boat to search for a spot where northern right whales mate in winter.

An international team that will include researchers from Bar Harbor plans to launch a search from a Bar Harbor Whale Watch boat to search for a spot where northern right whales mate in winter. —PHOTO COURTESY ZACK KLYVER

“This is really quite amazing. That the unknown right whale mating ground might be right in our backyard. This is kind of like a Holy Grail for whale science,” said Sean Todd, director of whale research at College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale program. Researchers from Allied Whale will join the expedition.

“The Northeast Fisheries Science Center large whale aerial survey team from Woods Hole has been sighting large aggregations of right whales in this area since 2004 in the months of November, December and January. “This is the time of the year we think right whale mating takes place. We feel it is very important for us to finally get out to this area and try and determine if this is indeed the right whale mating ground,” Dr. Brown said.

Dr. Brown, who has been active in right whale research for nearly three decades, claims these research cruises could yield very interesting results. There is hope these boat surveys could provide important answers to a number of long standing mysteries surrounding right whales. Two critical questions have eluded researchers studying North Atlantic Right Whales. Where is the missing mating ground? Where do most of the male whales go during the winter?

“We have long speculated that there was an undiscovered mating ground and have wondered where many of our adult right whales go. In the past, most of the adult population seems to disappear during the winter months,” Dr. Brown said.

Funding for this research is coming from the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, TD Bank and the Canadian Wildlife Federation of the Canadian Whale Institute. The Canadian Whale Institute is chartering a 112-foot jet-powered catamaran whale watch boat and crew from Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

“We are excited to play a part and believe this boat is perfectly suited for this whale research project that will take us out 50 to 60 miles offshore. It will be important to have a fast stable boat with great visibility, so we can get out when the weather clears, sight whales from far away, and return to port quickly when we lose daylight,” boat captain Matt Ketchen said.

Dr. Brown added, “Ideal weather conditions are a must. Our plan is to pick and choose the best days so we can effectively conduct research with any right whales we encounter.”

Research plans include photo ID, biopsy and collecting fecal samples, which may allow scientists to examine hormones and help characterize the sexes and reproductive status of the whales on Jordan Basin and assess if they are sexually active.

The North Atlantic Right Whale is the most endangered large whale population in the world. New England Aquarium scientists, who annually follow them from the Bay of Fundy to Florida and Georgia, presently estimate the population to be about 450 individuals.

“We are hoping to have representatives from the Maine Lobster Fishing Industry join us on some cruises – as we know they have a strong interest in knowing where right whales are located and understanding the science,” said Dr. Brown.

Researchers from Allied Whale, the marine mammal group at College of the Atlantic and researchers from the Maine Department of Marine Resources in Boothbay Harbor will be joining the surveys to help locate right whales. “We will be taking along seabird scientists too, as this will be an opportunity to learn more about pelagic seabird abundance in an area of the Gulf of Maine not often visited by scientists,” said Dr. Brown."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

{Flight} 13 November 2010 Cashes Ledge

We found 17 right whales out on Cashes Ledge today!

{Press} Mariners warned to keep eye out for migrating whales

ENCToday.com | November 13, 2010

"November marks the start of the North Atlantic right whale calving season, and mariners are reminded to keep watch for the rare whales as they migrate along the East Coast.

NOAA Fisheries Service announced the start of the calving season, which begins Monday and continues through April 15, and asks boaters in the southeast United States to report sightings of the endangered whale and to keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species.

Scientists estimate as few as 350 right whales remain, making it one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.

Each winter, pregnant right whales migrate southward from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida to give birth and nurse their young.

These southern waters are the only known calving area for the species, NOAA said.
Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin, and they often swim slowly at or just below the water’s surface. Despite their large size they can be difficult to see, and a slight textural difference on the water’s surface is often the only clue that a whale is present.

Ship strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to the recovery of North Atlantic right whales, NOAA said.

Information from aerial surveys and underwater buoys is used to alert mariners of the presence of right whales, enabling ships to alter their course to avoid potential collisions with the whales.
North Atlantic right whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Federal law prohibits approaching or remaining within 500 yards of right whales, either by watercraft or aircraft.

Federal law also requires vessels 65 feet long and greater to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern U.S.

Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid Atlantic through April 30, and in the southeast U.S. calving area from Monday through April 15. For more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, visit nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/

NOAA Fisheries Service encourages people to report sightings of dead, injured, or entangled whales to NOAA at 877-433-8299."

Saturday, November 06, 2010

{Flight} 06 November 2010 Jordan Basin

Sighted two right whales on Jordan Basin today including one juvenile. Otherwise was pretty quiet out there...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

{Press} Right Whale seasonal management is in effect

Examiner.com | November 3, 2010

"The right whale migration and calving season is beginning along the Atlantic seaboard, says the Jacksonville Marine Transportation Exchange

The right whale ship strike reduction Seasonal Management Areas and their associated speed restrictions of 10 knots became effective for Mid-Atlantic coast ports from Long Island Sound to Savannah on November 1 and remain in place through April 30, 2011.

Specific dimensions for the Seasonal Management Area and the applicable rules are available on NOAA Fisheries Service Compliance Guide along with additional important information from NOAA at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/.

For vessels operating further south, the Southeast U.S. Seasonal Management Area which includes the ports of Brunswick, Fernandina and Jacksonville, becomes effective on November 15 and remains in place through April 15. In addition to the speed restrictions, vessels operating in this area must also comply with the Mandatory Ship Reporting System rules.

Mariners are also strongly encouraged to utilize the recommended two-way routes to reduce the likelihood of vessel strikes in those areas where routes have been established off Brunswick, Fernandina and Jacksonville.

NOAA Fisheries Service has prepared Shipboard Right Whale Protection Program loose-leaf notebook that includes general guidelines for vessels operating where right whales may be present and includes the latest version of the Prudent Mariner’s Guide to Right Whale Protection CD. Copies of these notebooks should soon be available at the Marine Exchange in Jacksonville, Maritime Assn. in Savannah and Charleston, and at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Wilmington, N.C."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

{Press} NOAA study: Fish rules don't jeopardize whales

The Gloucester Daily Times | Richard Gaines | November 1, 2010

"The system for managing the New England groundfishery "is likely to adversely effect, but not jeopardize" the four endangered species of whales and the four endangered species of turtles that swim in waters fished primarily with bottom trawls and gillnets, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found.

NOAA's study, released last Friday, focuses on the impact on the endangered whales and turtles by Amendment 16, the groundfish plan that covers 15 species, and seven other more narrowly focused plans — for lobster, monkfish, dogfish, skate, squid, mackerel and butterfish, summer flounder, scup, black sea bass and bluefish.

The findings are good news for all concerned, including the fishing industry, according to Terri Frade, spokeswoman for the New England Fishery Science Center at Woods Hole.

"It's positive in that it reflects the improved condition of the right whale, which is endangered but its numbers are going up rather than dropping," she said.

"The big question is, is the plan likely to result in jeopardy (to the endangered mammals)?" said Mary Colligan, NOAA's assistant regional administrator for protected resources. "If we find jeopardy, how do we avoid that?

"Because it is not likely to jeopardize (the endangered species of whales and turtles)," she said, "no alternatives are required."

As recently as 2001, the groundfish plan at the time included seasonal area management and gear modifications to combat findings that the endangered species swimming with the prized food fish in the waters fished off the East Coast from Maine through the Carolinas were in harm's way, Frade said.

In 1999, according to the groundfish plan analysis, "a right whale mortality was attributed to entanglement to gillnet gear," though NOAA was unable to determine the origins of the gear. The incident led to a full review of the impact of the groundfish plan and a finding that the fishery jeopardized the continued existence of right whales."

NOAA is required to re-initiate a study after creation of — or major alternations to — a fishery management plan.

Frade said the minimum population estimate of right whales is 361, with 39 calves born last year, the most since 1993.

According to NOAA's study, "the annual take of loggerhead sea turtles in bottom otter trawl gear for the period 2000-2004 was estimated to be 43 and three for gillnet gear used in the Northeast multispecies fishery."

The projected mortality of loggerheads accidentally taken in trawl gear is 19 of 43, and two of three from gillnets.

The projected mortality represents no more than 0.05 percent of the females, the consultation report concluded.

According to the report, trawling and gillnetting accounted for 87 percent of all landings in 2007, the last year for which figures were reported in the study.

Experts estimate there are about 15,000 loggerhead turtles in the seas.

The biological opinion study covers endangered right whales as well as humpback, fin and Sei whales and leatherback, Kemp's ridley sea turtles, great sea turtles and leatherback turtles as well as loggerheads.

The finding that the fishery plans "may affect" the endangered whales and turtles requires NOAA to take a series of "reasonable and prudent measures" to minimize impacts.

These measures include "ensuring that any sea turtles taken in multispecies fishing gear are handled in such a way as minimize stress to the animal and increase its survival rate."

{Press} NOAA: Ship Speed Restrictions to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales

NOAA Press Release | November 1, 2010



"NOAA has announced seasonal vessel speed restrictions along the U.S. East Coast where the endangered right whale travels to protect them from being injured or killed by colliding with ships.

The restrictions—the same as imposed last year— require vessels 65 feet or longer to travel at 10 knots or less in key right whale areas, reducing the chances ships will collide with whales.

“These speed restrictions are in place when we know right whales are in certain areas, where they are vulnerable to being hit by ships,” said Eric Schwaab, NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator. “We implement speed restrictions every year, based on what our scientists know about the locations and times of year that right whales are calving, feeding and migrating.”

North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, with only 300 to 400 in existence. Their slow movements and time spent at the surface near the coast make right whales highly vulnerable to being struck by ships. Shipping lanes into East Coast ports cut across their migration routes, making collisions with ships one of their primary threats.

The existing 10-knot speed restriction extends out to 20 nautical miles around major mid-Atlantic ports. According to NOAA researchers, about 83 percent of right whale sightings in the mid-Atlantic region occur within 20 nautical miles of shore. The speed restriction also applies in waters off New England and the southeastern U.S., where whales gather seasonally. A two-page guide to complying with the restrictions and additional information on reducing vessel collisions is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/.

The seasonal speed restrictions being announced today apply in the following approximate locations from November 1 through April 30, times when whales are known to be in these areas:

* Block Island Sound
* Ports of New York/New Jersey
* Entrance to the Delaware Bay
* Entrance to the Chesapeake Bay
* Ports of Morehead City and Beaufort, N.C., and a continuous area from 20 miles from shore between Wilmington, N.C. to south of Savannah, Ga..

In addition, from November 15 through April 15, the same restrictions apply in an area extending from north of Brunswick, Ga. to south of Jacksonville, Fla..

NOAA routinely calls for temporary voluntary speed limits in other areas or times when a group of three or more right whales is confirmed.

Ship speed restriction rules are part of NOAA’s broader effort to help the right whale population recover by protecting their habitat. NOAA efforts include surveying whale habitat by aircraft, mandatory ship reporting systems that provide advisories and information on right whale locations to mariners, modified shipping lanes into Boston, recommending shipping routes into other coastal areas to prevent collisions, and regulations to prevent entanglement in fishing gear.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Find us on Facebook."