Gard: Key recommendations to avoid collision with the endangered North Atlantic right whale

Gard Club has published an alert to warn masters and crews operating along the US/Canadian East Coast to maintain a good lookout for North Atlantic right whales and follow the speed restrictions in force at any given time.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whale species on the planet. The North Atlantic right whale is nearly entirely distributed along the East Coasts of Canada and the United States. Because its habitat and migration paths are close to large ports and frequently coincide with shipping lanes, the whales are vulnerable to collisions with vessels.

All marine life should be protected and especially endangered species. Luckily, shipping has been employing encouraging initiatives in line with UN sustainability goals number 14, regarding the protection of marine environment and life. For instance, twenty three shipping companies participated in Protecting Blue Whales & Blue Skies vessel speed reduction program in 2022, contributing to cleaner air, safer whales, and a quieter ocean.

Members and clients with vessels trading along the US East Coast and in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence are advised by Gard to:

  • Make sure crews receive basic training in the precautionary measures to be taken when operating in areas where right whales are known to be present, including identification and reporting.
  • Check for active speed reduction zones.
  • Encourage Masters to reduce the vessel’s speed to 10 knots or less while transiting areas with voluntary speed restrictions (DMAs), or alternatively route around the area, and to post lookouts that are familiar with spotting right whales.
  • Review, and update as necessary, vessels’ procedures for pre-arrival reporting to make sure they are in line with the provisions of the US Right Whale Mandatory Ship Reporting System.
  • Collect information about right whale sightings from all available sources.
  • Instruct crews not to intentionally approach within 500 yards (460 m) of a North Atlantic right whale as this is a violation of US federal law. Other vessels in the area should be alerted when a right whale is sighted.

Violations of the mandatory North Atlantic right whale speed restrictions can lead to civil administrative penalties being issued against the vessel.

Canadian requirements 

Transport Canada (TC) has now announced the vessel traffic management measures that will be enforced in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the 2023 whale season, which this year extends from 19 April to 15 November. The following restrictions apply to all vessels more than 13 m in overall length (OAL):

  • In the Northern and Southern Static Zones, a fixed mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots is in force during the entire whale season.
  • In the Dynamic Shipping Zones A to E, a temporary mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots will enter into force when a right whale is spotted near or in the shipping lanes.
  • In the Seasonal Management Areas north and south of the Dynamic Shipping Zone E,  a fixed mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots is in force from 19 April to 27 June. From 28 June to 15 November.
  • Restricted Area near the Shediac Valley: during the summer months, vessels more than 13 m in OAL are prohibited from entering the restricted area unless they are on the list of exempted vessels.
  • Voluntary Seasonal Slowdown Zone: In and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a voluntary speed restriction of maximum 10 knots is force in this zone during the periods 19 April to 27 June and 27 September to 15 November.
  • Operators of vessels of 300 gross tonnage or more of the Roseway Basin’s Area to be Avoided, which will be in force from 1 June to 31 December 2023.

US requirements

  • Mandatory ship reporting: Ships of 300 gross tons and above must report to a shore-based station when entering two key right whale habitats: one in the northeast off the coast of Massachusetts and Cape Cod (year-round reporting required) and one in the southeast off the coast of Georgia and Florida (reporting required between 15 November and 16 April).
  • Fixed speed restriction zones: All vessels 65 feet (19.8 m) in OAL or more must travel at 10 knots or less in certain locations, referred to as seasonal management areas (SMAs), along the US East Coast at certain times of the year.
  • Temporary speed reduction zones: Voluntary 10 knot speed restriction zones, referred to as dynamic management areas (DMAs) and slow zones, may be established at short notice when right whales are detected visually or acoustically.
  • Voluntary seasonal ‘Area To Be Avoided’ (ATBA): An ATBA has been established in the Great South Channel and ships of 300 gross tons and above are recommended to avoid the ATBA from 1 April 1 to July 31 when right whales face their highest risk of vessel strikes in this area.
  • Recommended shipping lanes: Recommended shipping lanes have been established within Cape Cod Bay (January through May) and in right whale nursery areas off Georgia and Florida (November through April).

For more information read Gard’s article here.

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