Mariners Asked to Slow Down South of Nantucket to Protect Right Whales

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

NANTUCKET — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is announcing a voluntary speed restriction zone south of Nantucket to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The federal agency said Tuesday that the restriction for mariners will be in effect through Feb. 5 to protect a group of about two-dozen right whales seen south of Nantucket.

“That area has turned out to be occasionally important to right whales,” said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, with the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown.

Right whales are among the most endangered marine mammals in the world with an estimated population around 450, and are coming off of a year of high mortality and low reproduction. At least 17 of the whales were confirmed dead in 2017 with only six confirmed births.

NOAA Fisheries says it’s asking mariners to either travel around an area 30 nautical miles south of Nantucket or transit through the area at 10 knots or less.

“Any time it’s possible to find whales and to try to institute speed restrictions or reduce fisheries proactively is a positive,” Mayo said.

Mayo said the difficulty is that there are hundreds of right whales with unknown locations right now.

“There are whales for whom speed restrictions may be meaningless,” he said. “Boats may be traveling at high speeds [near them] and we don’t even know it.”

Right whales were decimated during the whaling era and are the source of longstanding conservation efforts.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article.

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