US sets ship speed limit to protect right whales

Wednesday, October 8th 2008, 12:56 pm
By: News 9

WASHINGTON (AP) -- To save a slow-moving species of whale that lives along the Atlantic coast, the government is telling ships to slow down.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday issued a 11.5-mile-per-hour speed limit for ships 65 feet or longer that travel within 23 miles of major mid-Atlantic ports, and in areas where the North Atlantic right whale breeds, feeds and migrates. The regulation will go into effect in December.

Government marine scientists had initially proposed a 34-mile-wide coastal speed zone around the ports. That recommendation was scaled back after the White House questioned the science linking ship speed to whale deaths.

The North Atlantic right whale has been protected as an endangered species since 1970. Despite warning systems and aerial surveys to locate whales in shipping lanes, only 300-400 whales remain in the wild. The major remaining threat to the species is ship strikes, which from 1997 to 2001 killed about one to two right whales per year, according to federal officials.

The speed limit will be the first put in place to protect a species along the Atlantic coast. A federal analysis issued earlier this year said that the limit could cost the shipping industry millions of dollars in lost revenue. It would affect most commercial ships, including ferries, cruise liners and even whale-watching vessels.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)