Please select your home edition
The Cruising Village 2021 - LEADERBOARD

NOAA asks for the help of recreational boaters in saving critically endangered right whales

by Daria Blackwell 11 Sep 2020 16:51 UTC
Atlantic right whales © NOAA/NEFSC/Christin Khan

Daria Blackwell, Vice Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club and boating journalist, had the opportunity to meet with three scientists from NOAA who are pivotal in an effort to save North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) from extinction. They described resources being made available to recreational boaters and requested boaters to help in the effort to protect whales from being struck by boats along the US East Coast.

For some time now, commercial shipping has been receiving information about right whale habitat use patterns in order to help protect these whales from ship strikes. US Law prohibits vessels 65 feet (19.8 m) or more from operating at speeds higher than 10 knots in Seasonal Management Areas (SMAs), waters where North Atlantic right whales are known to feed, congregate, and breed. Additionally, NOAA has sent temporary notifications, known as Dynamic Management Areas, asking large ships to slow down to 10 knots or less for two weeks in areas where right whales have been observed outside of SMAs. North Atlantic right whales are in particular danger because their dwindling numbers - only around 400 individuals remain - leaving them critically endangered. In 2017, NOAA declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), which is an emergency declaration, due to the elevated number of deaths experienced by this population. Any size vessel can critically injure a whale, especially a calf. This season already two calves have been struck in US waters.

Starting in the 2020 season, scientists at NOAA are expanding their notification program to vessels of all sizes and also including acoustic information to help boaters avoid areas where these endangered right whales are detected at a given time or to at least slow down and keep a close watch to minimize whale strikes. Launched in August and focusing on the East Coast of the United States, the right whale Slow Zones initiative uses maps to indicate boxed areas where boat speeds of 10 knots or less can help save Right Whales' lives.

Mariners are requested to route around or reduce speed to less than 10 knots in right whale Slow Zones where whales have been reported by visual sightings or acoustic detections. Scientist Jean Higgins said, "Visual and acoustic data provide us with the ability to create a road map of areas on the ocean where whales have been seen or heard. We are asking all boaters to slow down to 10 knots or less or to avoid these areas if possible." Approaching right whales at a distance closer than 500 yards is a violation of Federal and State Laws.

Boaters can access right whale Slow Zone information through an interactive map on NOAA's website, by subscribing to email or text notifications for right whale Slow Zones under NOAA Fisheries New England and mid-Atlantic subscription topics, or through the Whale Alert app. The Whale Alert app, available for both iOS and Android devices, provides close to real time information about whale presence. In addition, it enables mariners to report sightings thereby contributing to the body of knowledge of where whales can be found at any given time. Sightings can also be reported by calling the USCG on VHF channel 16 or by telephone to two locations.

According to acoustics expert Dr Danielle Cholewiak, the unique vocalizations of right whales known as an upcall help to identify them and distinguish them from other species. "We use hydrophones, which are underwater microphones, to listen for whale vocalizations. This is called passive acoustic monitoring, and we use these tools to monitor the distribution of right whales and many other species. We also cooperate with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which uses underwater gliders and stationary buoys that listen for North Atlantic right whales, as well as a broader suite of baleen whales." The Robots4Whales automatically detect sounds, identify the species based on characteristics of the sounds, and report which species have been heard to scientists on shore via satellite in near real time. The scientists then review the detections and confirm the presence of that species.

When asked if there are any means by which boaters can ward off encounters with whales, such as turning on depth sounders, Danielle replied, "Baleen whales specialize in low-frequency communication. Many echosounders, depending on their frequency, may be at the limits of or beyond the hearing range of most baleen whales. Other species, such as killer whales and dolphins, hear higher-frequency sounds better and may be more likely to hear the type of echosounders used by recreational boaters. However, there is no evidence to suggest that echosounders would be an effective deterrent and turning on a sounder creates more noise in the water. Echosounders should be used for navigational safety as needed, but we wouldn't recommend using an echosounder as a deterrent in the vicinity of whales." Instead, when whales are in the area, boaters are encouraged to slow down and keep a lookout to avoid accidental collisions.

Allison Ferreira, Communications Lead for the Greater Atlantic Fisheries Office underscored the importance of getting recreational boaters involved and spreading the word about the vulnerability of right whales in particular. "All boaters can help save right whales and other species with a few simple steps," she said. "Here's what anyone out there on the water can do to help."

  • Learn where the Slow Zones are - sign up for notifications
  • Check the app to see where whales have been sighted or heard
  • Avoid or Slow Down to 10 knots or less when entering a Seasonal Management Area
  • Keep a close watch and wide distance from whales in your vicinity
  • Report all sightings

Learn more about the Slow Zones and Whale Alert App on the NOAA website. Listen to the different species of whales on the NOAA Fisheries site.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

Related Articles

30th anniversary of sailing club in Cuba
Hemingway International Nautical Club of Cuba will be celebrating in 2022 I am pleased to greet you very kindly on behalf of the Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba and on my own behalf, as well as to wish that you, your family and members of the Ocean Cruising Club are enjoying excellent health. Posted on 5 Jul
What to do if you encounter orca off Iberian Coast
About 60 whales are resident in these waters, up from just 39 in 2011 Over the past year, numerous, often violent, interactions between whales and yachts have been reported along the coasts of Spain and Portugal right to the Straits of Gibraltar. Posted on 4 Jul
Plastic Free July
Here are two things we can concentrate our efforts on Plastic Free July is a global campaign, the idea being that everyone removes plastic from their day-to-day, entirely. This may be impractical for many, but the idea should spotlight our overreliance. Posted on 1 Jul
RoRC Soundings from the Islands
Here's hoping we do actually get down to the Caribbean this year! "Last year I lent a hand to pull the boats onto the land, They've been lying there for nineteen months or more, And I wonder will they lie there evermore". Posted on 21 Jun
RoRC report - Desktop sailing and food for heroes
It is hard to imagine a more difficult year It is hard to imagine a more difficult year. It's a very nasty virus and with international travel upended and restrictions to entry to most countries, plans for cruising are put on hold. Posted on 20 Jun
RoRC report from Maine to the Dry Tortugas
We had a sporty sail down to Annapolis on the back of a passing hurricane way out in the Atlantic In our last RoRC Report we were enjoying a beautiful summer in Maine. We were really hoping that the Canadian border would open and we could make a run to Nova Scotia but alas that never happened. Posted on 19 Jun
RoRC report from the Channel Islands
Our last RoRC report detailed our sail back across the Atlantic prompted by the Covid crisis At the time we did consider that we might be being a little pessimistic about Covid but took the favourable transatlantic weather window to be on the safe side. Posted on 18 Jun
Clean tips for cruising
Some top tips on how to get started on being a Clean Sailor Sailors, the sea is our passion, pastime and, in many cases, our profession. We love the sea. Let's get cleaner and reduce our impact on our waters! Posted on 16 Jun
Southern Ocean officially recognised
As Earth's 5th Ocean by National Geographic recognized Coincident with World Oceans Day, National Geographic announced that it is officially recognizing the Southern Ocean as the Earth's fifth ocean. Posted on 12 Jun
The OCC celebrates World Oceans Day
Working towards helping members maintain a sustainable lifestyle The OCC is working towards helping our members maintain a sustainable lifestyle without contributing damage to the environment and where possible helping to repair damage done. Posted on 8 Jun
Lalizas ISO RACING LIFE RAFT - FOOTERHighfield Boats - SWC - FOOTERNautical ID 2021 - FOOTER