OCEAN CITY — With several whale species returning to the mid-Atlantic area as part of the normal migration pattern, the U.S. Coast Guard this week is reminding commercial and recreational vessels of the rules governing their health and safety.
According to Coast Guard officials, every year from November to April, several whale species return to coastal waters in the mid-Atlantic as part of their usual migratory routes and calving grounds. In recent weeks, the Coast Guard, in partnership with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, has been enforcing the Ship Strike Reduction Rule in a seasonal management area, particularly around the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
The Coast Guard has been actively informing all vessels 65-feet in length or greater of the 10-knot speed limit in the management area. The purpose of the regulation is to decrease the likelihood of deaths and serious injuries to whales that result from collisions with ships, including the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. In addition, the Coast Guard has been notifying commercial and recreational boaters of key regulations about approaching whales.
For example, all boaters within a half a mile of any whale species are required to reduce speed to seven knots or less. Approaching within 500 yards of a right whale is a violation of federal law that can result in serious civil or criminal penalties under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, all boaters are required to maintain at least a 100-foot buffer zone for all other whale species.
Coast Guard officials said this week they are hoping the proactive notification efforts in the management area off the coast of the resort will prevent whale strikes and help protect the migrating animals.
“Compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act protects these animals and promotes boater safety for those who want to view them along our coasts,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason Lind, a maritime law enforcement officer at Coast Guard Station Hampton Roads. “As a law enforcement officer, I would much rather prevent violations through education than charge someone after they have violated a regulation.”