“Real-time monitoring technologies that could help prevent right whale-vessel collisions are just not ready yet. We don’t rely on collision avoidance warnings in cars to protect kids going to school—we protect them with mandatory slow-down zones. The best available science shows us slower speeds prevent vessel strikes. Congress should not interfere with this science-based rulemaking process.”
This morning, the House Appropriations Committee is marking up its FY24 appropriations bill for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. The bill contains language that would prevent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) Fisheries from finalizing urgently needed updates to a 2008 vessel speed rule until real-time monitoring technology is implemented. This rule protects the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
“Real-time monitoring technologies that could help prevent right whale-vessel collisions are just not ready yet,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “We don’t rely on collision avoidance warnings in cars to protect kids going to school—we protect them with mandatory slow-down zones. The best available science shows us slower speeds prevent vessel strikes. Congress should not interfere with this science-based rulemaking process.”
This transparent attempt to block a rule that hasn’t even been finalized would have catastrophic impacts on the right whale. Because annual human-caused right whale deaths vastly outnumber annual births, the species faces functional extinction within 15 years if we do not reduce deaths dramatically.
Vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements are the two leading causes of right whale mortality. Mother-calf pairs are especially vulnerable to vessel strikes. Over the past three years alone, vessel strikes have killed three right whale calves and a first-time mother in U.S. waters. There is a 1 in 14 chance a right whale calf will be killed by a vessel strike before its first birthday.
NOAA Fisheries’ proposed updates to the rule would establish seasonal slow speed zones for vessels 35 feet or longer in times and areas where the right whale is particularly at risk of vessel strikes. The agency’s analysis shows that the updated rule could reduce vessel strike deaths in U.S. waters by up to 90 percent.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act this year in the face of nonstop efforts by anti-wildlife members of Congress to weaken and undermine it, we note that in the entire existence of the Marine Mammal Protection Act -- that had its own 50th anniversary last year – not a single species under the protection of that Act has gone extinct.
“Today’s anti-wildlife members in the House seem hellbent on trying to end that record and leave a lasting – and irreversible – legacy of their own,” Davenport continued. “We can only hope that science and sound policy prevail so these whales have a secure future”