June
3rd 2008
Right Whales and their nemesis, The Ship

Posted under news

My attention was brought today to this story about the impact of proposed legislation which is intended to protect right whales but is being challenged by ferry lines running from the southern coast of Massachusetts to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The story is really an interesting example of how to balance commerce/business with conservation and protection of endangered animals.  In this case the endangered animal is the North Atlantic right whale, numbering 350-400 (estimates vary) and extremely vulnerable to death by ship strike.  The reporter seems to favor the ferries, who are concerned about the impact that an ongoing reduction speed would have on their schedules.  This is certainly a legitimate concern.  Published timetables would be compromised by speed restrictions.  But, as is also pointed out in the story, there is no history of right whales ever being found in Nantucket Sound, so it seems a specious argument to make until there has been a real impact.

I want to do some more digging on this story.  Senator John Kerry introduce a Senate bill, S.2657, with Senator Olympia Snowe, and it seems to have been submitted on February 15, 2008.  What’s new since then? This year for the first time, Cape Cod Bay has been populated with a series of acoustic buoys designed to listen for and detect the presence of right whales in real time.  This allows fast dispatch of information to vessels so they can be on the alert.  I wonder, as data from this project accumulates, if it will also make unnecessary a codified, and potentially arbitrary since whales are always on the move, period of time where speeds must be adjusted.  And if successful, and funding permits, buoys could then be deployed in other “hot spots” for right whales.

But really in the end, do the ferry lines really warrant the fuss they are making when the rules only when right whales are in the area, and they are not known to be in that area?

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