©2022 The News Service of Florida.
Conservation groups Tuesday filed an emergency petition seeking expanded boat-speed limits to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales, which calve each year off the coast of North Florida and other areas of the Southeast. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Conservation Law Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation filed the petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The petition said only about 340 North Atlantic right whales exist, and they are jeopardized by boat collisions off the Southeast coast, the species’ only known calving ground. The calving season starts in mid-November. “Vessel strikes cause mortality and serious injury, along with sublethal effects that can weaken or otherwise harm right whales and make them more vulnerable to subsequent injury or death,” the petition said. “Right whales are particularly vulnerable to vessel strikes because their habitat requirements and coastal migration necessitate their use of waters heavily traversed by shipping traffic, and their feeding, resting and socializing behaviors bring them to the surface quite often.” A current rule requires vessels 65 feet or longer to slow to 10 knots or less to protect right whales in designated areas at certain times of the year. The petition seeks to set speed limits for vessels 35 feet or longer and expand the areas where they apply, according to the conservation groups.