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Proposed rule expansion would impose speed limits on boats to prevent collisions with whales: 'The risk of extinction is very real'

"Our impacts are so great right now."

"Our impacts are so great right now."

Photo Credit: iStock

North Atlantic right whales are in a dangerous position with less than 360 surviving in the wild, but a new proposed speed limit could help save lives, according to Grist.

Since 2017, 39 right whales — whose North American habitat extends along the coast of Florida to Canada — have died in what scientists call an "unusual mortality event," as Grist reported.

The publication noted that boat strikes are one of the leading causes of death for this endangered species. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed the first right whale death of 2024 in April after a baby was struck by a vessel. 

Now, expanded speed limits for boats have been proposed and, as of the end of May, were under review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. This is the last stage of federal review, according to Grist.

Meanwhile, an increasingly warmer world is also threatening right whales, impacting its food supply and leading the creatures to venture to new areas without legal protections in place. This has put the species at risk of disappearing completely.

"Our impacts are so great right now that the risk of extinction is very real," Jessica Redfern, associate vice president of ocean conservation at the New England Aquarium, told Grist. "To be able to save the species, we have to stop our direct human-caused impacts on the population."

Currently, ships in certain areas over 65 feet long must slow down when whales are likely to be around — the time of year varies by region. As Grist reported, the new proposed rules would expand the speed limits to a broader geographical area, include smaller craft like fishing boats, and make temporary speed limits mandatory after visual sightings confirming the presence of three or more right whales within a dynamic management area.  

Helping to conserve right whales is a win for oceans and people. Whales play an important role in their ecosystem, enabling tourism opportunities and supporting a web of life. They can even help us fight a warming world, as they play an important role in carbon sequestration.

Worldwide, according to the World Wildlife Fund, "six out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable." But many conservationists and governments are working to protect these gargantuan mammals. For instance, the island nation of Dominica created a first-of-its-kind marine sanctuary to conserve sperm whales. 

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