Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Welcome Back Whales

It is seen from a research vessel lookout - a solitary V-shaped “blow” and then something dark on the water’s surface. Often, the return of right whales to Georgia is as subtle as that. But this winter, thanks to a new ruling more of these imperiled whales will have a better chance at making the annual journey safely.

In October, the National Marine Fisheries Service established a rule that will implement speed restrictions for vessels 65 feet or longer. The restrictions call for a speed of no more than 10 knots during certain times of the year in areas designated as critical right whale habitat along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard. The rule goes into effect Dec. 9, 2008. Shipping interests can find additional information at this website.

It is important to note that not only commercial ships can cause mortal injuries to right whales. Recreational fishing boats and other large personal recreational boats can also have a devastating impact on the whales, which are found as close as three miles offshore depending on water depth. Although larger recreational boats are not required to adhere to the commercial speed limit, it is recommended that they heed the rule as well.

North Atlantic right whales spend the summer in the cooler waters off New England and Canada. Each fall, a portion of the population returns to Georgia and Florida for the winter. Annual research done by the DNR Wildlife Resources Division and NOAA from December through March is helping wildlife biologists determine the status of these endangered

Right whales were nearly driven to extinction by commercial whaling in the late 19th century. Commercial harvest was banned in 1935. Today the North Atlantic right whale is classified as endangered under U.S. and Georgia law. Right whales are listed as a priority species in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, the blueprint for conservation in the state. Georgia adopted the right whale as its state mammal in 1985.

Although not hunted now, right whales face conservation problems including ship strikes, entanglement in commercial fishing gear and habitat destruction. Even after nearly 50 years of protected status, there are only an estimated 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales left.

To learn more about right whales watch:

Georgia Outdoors: Coastal Sports and Wildlife

Georgia Outdoors: Conservation Success Stories

Georgia Outdoors: Favorite State Symbols

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sunday February 8, 2008 the vessel "Showtime" saw 2 of these whales. We saw the whales 4 miles out of Port Royal sound in Beaufort, SC. If anyone has any information on who we should report these findings to please contact me at