The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is urging marine boaters to travel at slower speeds in light of the recent increase in ship strikes of large whale in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA-Fisheries) has issued an alert to boaters after three recent ship strikes along the eastern seaboard.
“This is a higher number of collisions than expected for this time of year,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. “It’s unknown why this is happening, but it is likely that whales are following their prey into nearshore waters at this time, putting them in the path of vessels. Mariners should be aware and proceed with caution while out on these waters.”
Several different species of whale traverse New York’s waters during the course of migration, including North Atlantic right, humpback, fin (or finback), blue, sperm, sei and minke whale. Fin, humpback, minkes and right whales are the most likely to be sighted.
Except for the minke whale, all of these species are considered to be endangered by both state and federal governments. Particularly the North Atlantic right whale, which is a critically endangered species - the loss of just one could have a significant impact on its remaining population.
The presence of these whales in the New York Bight, which has some of the heaviest ship traffic in the world, makes vessel strikes one of the biggest threats to these animals in this area.
NOAA-Fisheries has imposed speed restrictions on boats since 2008 in attempt to reduce the chance of vessel collisions. The NOAA uses voluntary speed reductions to protect whales in areas where three or more right whales are sighted.
During certain times of the year and in specific areas, vessels 65 feet or longer must travel at speeds of 10 knots or less while within 20 nautical miles of a major port. However, due to the recent increase of whales in the nearshore area, the DEC recommends reduced speeds for vessels of all sizes, especially if a whale is sighted nearby.
The DEC also requests that mariners report whale sightings. To report a whale sighting or ship strike in the Northeast (Virginia to Maine) call NOAA at 866-755-NOAA or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Ch. 16. Whales stranded on New York beaches should be reported to the Riverhead Foundation, the state’s designated marine mammal stranding response organization, at their 24 hour hotline (631) 369-9840. For more information, contact DEC’s Bureau of Marine Resources, Marine Endangered Species at (631) 444-0462 or visit NOAA’s website.