Thursday, December 29, 2011

{Press} Coast Guard warns ships of endangered right whales in mid-Atlantic waters | Tom Hester, Sr. | December 28, 2011

Pinpoints waters off Sandy Hook, entrance to Delaware Bay

"The Coast Guard on Wednesday reminded the operators of ships 65 feet or longer that the vessels can go no faster than 10 knots when entering New York Harbor off Sandy Hook or the Delaware Bay as part of the federal effort to protect North Atlantic right whales.

The service announced that the Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule is in effect until April to protect endangered right whales in mid-Atlantic waters where they are known to migrate.

As the federal government's primary maritime enforcement agency, the Coast Guard is working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a shared goal of conserving and rehabilitating the critically endangered whale’s population, which stands at approximately 300 worldwide. Collisions with ships and interaction with fishing gear are a major cause of mortality and injury to the whales.

NOAA fisheries implemented the regulations, which require vessels 65 feet or longer to operate at 10 knots or less over ground in certain locations consistent with the whales’ migratory pattern along the Atlantic coast. The locations include a 20 nautical mile radius around Sandy Hook and the entrance to Delaware Bay.

Vessels may operate at speeds more than 10 knots only if necessary to maintain a safe maneuvering speed in an area where conditions severely restrict vessel maneuverability as determined by the pilot or master.

"I think that anyone who’s seen one of these impressive creatures can understand why protecting them is so important," Lt. j.g. James Kopcsay, an enforcement officer at Coast Guard Sector North Carolina in Wilmington, said. "Following the provisions of this rule is of critical importance to preventing their extinction. The Coast Guard’s goal is to educate mariners about the importance of this rule, minimizing our need to issue warnings or seek civil penalties that result from choosing to break it."

Records indicate an average of two reported deaths or serious injuries to right whales occur due to ship strikes each year. Authorities said a single human-caused death or serious injury a year can impact the population’s ability to survive.

To report a suspected violation in the seasonal management areas, call the national hotline at 800-853-1964."

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