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Federal officials shoot down emergency request aimed at protecting right whales from ship strikes

A 9-year-old female right whale (left) and a smaller right whale spotted earlier this month off the coast of Jekyll Island.
Courtesy Sea to Shore Alliance/ NOAA Research Permit 20556
A 9-year-old female right whale (left) and a smaller right whale spotted earlier this month off the coast of Jekyll Island.

Federal officials have denied a request from conservationists to expedite the implementation of proposed ship speed reductions that might help protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale population.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is considering new rules aimed at stopping large vessels from colliding with right whales.

A coalition of conservation groups asked that the federal government implement parts of these rules this winter, when right whales typically travel from calving grounds in the southeast to feeding grounds near New England and Canada.

Their petition comes as the lobster industry recently secured a six-year pause on new regulations that might reduce the fishery's risk to the endangered species.

And with 340 or fewer remaining right whales, Regina Asmutis-Silvia of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation said environmental groups are paying equal attention to ship strikes.

"There's a comparable urgency there, regardless of what's happening with entanglements," she said. "These are two major threats. It's not one versus the other. It's hey, this species has got a bunch of stuff weighing on it, and they all have to be managed."

Vessel strikes and entanglement from fishing gear are the leading causes of right whale injury and death. NOAA officials are expected to implement the new ship rules sometime later this year.