The Coast Guard is advising mariners Wednesday to head caution on the water as multiple groups of right whales have been observed in the area of Boston Light to Marshfield.
As per the Endangered Species Act, it is unlawful to approach within 500 yards of a North Atlantic right whale by a vessel, aircraft (including drones) or other means, or to fail to take required avoidance measures. Avoidance measures include steering a course away from the whale and immediately leaving the area at a slow, safe speed.
There is also a seasonal management area in effect in Cape Cod Bay through May 15. Within this area, mariners are subject to mandatory speed restrictions of 10 knots or less.
Right whales are surface feeders, which means they are often at the surface or just below the surface when feeding, which makes them hard to see and especially vulnerable to being hit by a vessel.
“North Atlantic right whales are endangered, with a population of only about 450 remaining,” said Capt. Claudia Gelzer, commander of Coast Guard Sector Boston. “It is crucial for people on the water to help protect the whales by adhering to the 500 yard restriction area and vessel speed restrictions.”
NOAA Fisheries announced that a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone under the Dynamic Management Area program is currently in effect 12 Nautical Miles east of Boston to protect an aggregation of right whales. This DMA is in effect through May 3, 2018. Mariners are requested to route around this zone or transit through it at ten knots or less.
Information about the North Atlantic right whales and vessel speed restriction zone graphics may be found at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrik
Please report any possible distressed or entangled whales to the U.S. Coast Guard at 617-223-5757 or to NOAA at 866-755-6622.
When reporting a possible whale entanglement or a possible whale in distress it is important to report the exact position observed, any signs of lines, buoys or fishing gear entangled around the whale and any unusual behavior.
Last year was devastating for North Atlantic right whales, which suffered a loss of 17 whales, about 4 percent of their population. This is an alarming number for such a critically endangered species.