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Enviros Petition Feds for Whale-saving Slow Vessel Rule off Florida

© buenaventura13 / Adobe Stock

By Sebastien Malo

Environmental groups urged the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on Tuesday to establish a year-round speed limit for ships in areas of the Gulf of Mexico, home to one of the most endangered whales worldwide, to prevent deadly collisions.

The Natural Resource Defense Council and other groups asked the NMFS in a petition to limit the speed of vessels that navigate Gulf waters off the Florida panhandle to 10 knots. The area is home to the endangered Gulf of Mexico whale of which only about 50 survive. The petitioners argue that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires the agency to protect it from vessel strikes.

"Speed limits ... (have) helped save whales on the East Coast, and they'll help save the Gulf of Mexico whale from extinction," said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director with co-petitioner the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement.

The NMFS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NMSF lists on its website vessel strikes and ocean noise as threats to its survival. Tuesday's petitioners say a mandatory slowdown would also reduce vessel noise in the whale's habitat.

The agency in 2008 adopted a seasonal rule that limited the speed of all vessels over 65-feet long to 10 knots along specific areas of the East Coast to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale from vessel strikes. Tuesday's petitioners ask for a slowdown that would apply to vessels of all lengths transiting through the core habitat.

At least one Gulf of Mexico whale was killed by a vessel strike, petitioners say.

The case is Petition to Establish a Mandatory 10-Knot Speed Limit and Other-Vessel Related Mitigation Measures for Vessel Traffic within the Core Habitat of the Gulf of Mexico Whale, U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, No. N/A.

May 12, 2021


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