State/National/WorldNews Briefs

NOAA Develops Speed Zone Dashboard to Protect North Atlantic Right Whale

NOAA Fisheries has analyzed vessel compliance with speed regulations to monitor the effectiveness of this important conservation measure.

NOAA Fisheries developed an interactive speed zone dashboard that shows high overall vessel compliance with mandatory North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations. The vessel traffic data contained in the dashboard is generated from Automatic Identification Systems (AIS).

AIS is an automated tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) to identify and locate vessels by electronically exchanging data. AIS technology helps in collision avoidance, navigation safety and overall maritime domain awareness. The data will allow users to explore vessel traffic by speed, season, month, speed zone and vessel type.

North Atlantic right whales are approaching extinction, and vessel strikes are one of the leading causes of mortality and serious injury for the species, according to NOAA. Right whales have been experiencing an Unusual Mortality Event, a term used by NOAA to describe a significant and unexpected increase in the number of marine mammals, birds or fish that are found dead or dying in a specific area or region, since 2017. The leading cause of these deaths is human interaction, specifically from fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes.

NOAA Fisheries and its partners are dedicated to conserving the North Atlantic right whale population. The speed zone dashboard enables NOAA to monitor the effectiveness of its vessel speed regulations.

Most vessels 65 feet or longer must travel at 10 knots or less in specific locations called Seasonal Management Areas. This reduced speed lowers the threat of vessel collisions with endangered right whales. Because vessels of all sizes can strike a whale, NOAA also encourages vessels less than 65 feet long to slow to 10 knots or less within these seasonal management areas as well.

NOAA proposed changes to the right whale vessel speed rule to reduce the further likelihood of mortalities and severe injuries to endangered right whales from vessel collisions. In addition, NOAA accepted public comment on the proposed rule until Oct. 31, 2022, and anticipates taking final action on the proposed rule by the end of 2023.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard actively enforce the North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations and help the public comply with the rules that require some vessels to transit at 10 knots or less in designated ocean areas during certain times of the year.

To enforce the speed rule, NOAA deploys a number of technologies and strategies, including:

  • Industry and public outreach to help prevent violations before they happen
  • Automatic Identification Systems to detect speeding
  • Portable radar units to detect speeding by vessels not carrying AIS
  • Active patrolling of Seasonal Management Areas

NOAA has assessed $950,306 in civil penalties for vessels exceeding these regulations across 56 cases in 2022 and 2023. In addition to these cases, other speeding violations are being actively investigated and may be subject to potential civil penalties.

In addition, NOAA also provides the public with the information needed to comply with rules. By reacting in near-real time and using satellite-based technologies, NOAA has sent more than 250 alerts to vessels operating close to right whales.

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