The mounting toll of right whale deaths this summer on the East Coast plus the decline of the endangered killer whales, or orcas, on the West Coast have spurred various maritime industry and government initiatives in Canada and the United States. The impacts of commercial shipping and fishing are under the microscope.
To address the sudden increase of right whale deaths in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada’s federal government recently ordered vessels of 20 metres or more in length to reduce their speeds to a maximum of 10 knots while sailing through these waters. This applies notably to the ocean container and bulk vessels active in the St. Lawrence trades. Faster vessels attain average speeds of up to 25 knots.
The Knotty Problem of Right Whale Deaths
Ten right whales have died since June in the Gulf, and three others in U.S. waters. Preliminary findings suggest some of the mammals have died from blunt trauma caused by ship collisions or from entanglements in fishing gear. Latest reports indicate there are still 500 North Atlantic right whales still alive, including around 80-100 presently in the Gulf. The speed limits remain in place until the whales have migrated from the areas where they annually summer off Atlantic Canada and New England.
It was on August 11 that Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced temporary measures aimed at curbing further whale deaths. The measures are enforced by the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada, and non-compliance is subject to fines of up to $25,000. The area involved is the western Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Quebec North Shore to just north of Prince Edward Island.
“I think that Canadians and the shipping industry and the fishing industry recognize that this is something most unusual and we need to take measures,” Garneau said…
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