Reducing Vessel Strikes to North Atlantic Right Whales
North Atlantic right whale vessel speed restrictions reduce the likelihood of lethal collisions between vessels and these endangered whales.
Proposed Modifications to Right Whale Speed Rule
NOAA Fisheries announced proposed changes to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) vessel speed rule to further reduce the likelihood of mortalities and serious injuries to endangered right whales from vessel collisions. NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment on the proposed rule until October 31, 2022. More information on the submission process can be found in the Federal Register notice.
NOAA Fisheries hosted three informational webinars in August regarding the Proposed Rule. A recording of the August 16, 2022 webinar can be found below.
- Informational webinar recording
- Informational webinar PowerPoint slides
- Proposed rule and supplemental materials
- Data set for proposed right whale seasonal speed zones
- All Boaters Should Reduce Their Speed to Protect North Atlantic Right Whales
- North Atlantic right whale Road to Recovery
Right Whale Speed Rule Assessment
In 2013, NOAA Fisheries committed to publish a report evaluating the conservation value and economic and navigational safety impacts of the 2008 North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations (50 CFR § 224.105). The report was finalized in June 2020 and evaluates four aspects of the right whale vessel speed rule: biological efficacy, mariner compliance, impacts to navigational safety, and economic cost to mariners. It also provides a detailed assessment of the rule’s effectiveness, and assesses general trends in vessel traffic characteristics within Seasonal Management Areas over time.
- Right Whale Vessel Speed Rule Assessment, June 2020 (PDF, 53 pages)
- Appendix A: Figures and Tables (PDF, 77 pages)
- Appendix B: Economic Impact Assessment (PDF, 87 pages)
NOAA Fisheries solicited public comment on the speed rule assessment. The comment period closed at the end of March 2021 and we are posting comments received for public reference.
- Public comments received on right whale speed rule assessment - March 2021(PDF, 592 pages)
- Southern Environmental Law Center and Oceana comment attachments (PDF, 1197 pages)
Vessel Speed Restrictions
All vessels 65 feet (19.8 meters) or longer must travel at 10 knots or less in certain locations (called Seasonal Management Areas or SMAs) along the U.S. east coast at certain times of the year to reduce the threat of vessel collisions with endangered North Atlantic right whales. The purpose of this mandatory regulation is to reduce the likelihood of deaths and serious injuries to these endangered whales that result from collisions with vessel.Because vessels of all sizes can strike a whale, NOAA Fisheries also encourages vessels less than 65 feet in length to help protect right whales by slowing to 10 knots of less within active SMAs as well.
- Compliance Guide (PDF, 2 pages)
- Final rule to eliminate sunset provision on speed restrictions (12/09/13, 78 FR 73726)
- Proposed rule to eliminate sunset provision on speed restrictions (06/06/2013, 78 FR 34024)
- Economic analysis of North Atlantic right whale ship strike reduction rule (2012, PDF 49 pages)
- Final rule to implement speed restrictions (10/10/2008, 73 FR 60173)
Seasonal Management Areas - Northeast
Cape Cod Bay, January 1–May 15
Includes all waters of Cape Cod Bay with Northern Boundary of 42º04'56.5"N, 070º12'W to 42º12'N, 070º12'W then due west back to shore.
Off Race Point, March 1–April 30
Waters Bounded by:
41º40'N, 069º45'W then due west back to shore.
Great South Channel, April 1–July 31
Waters Bounded by:
41º40'N, 069º45'W then back to starting point.
Seasonal Management Areas - Mid-Atlantic
Migratory Route and Calving Grounds, November 1–April 30
Block Island Sound waters bounded by:
40º51'53.7" N 070º36'44.9" W
41º20'14.1" N 070º49'44.1" W
41º04'16.7" N 071º51'21.0" W
40º35'56.5" N 071º38'25.1" W then back to starting point.
Within a 20-nm (37 km) radius of the following (as measured seaward from the COLREGS lines):
-Ports of New York/New Jersey:
-Entrance to the Delaware Bay
(Ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington):
-Entrance to the Chesapeake Bay
(Ports of Hampton Roads and Baltimore):
-Ports of Morehead City and Beaufort, NC: 34º41'32.0"N 076°40'08.3"W
Within a continuous area 20-nm from shore between Wilmington, North Carolina, to Brunswick, Georgia, bounded by the following:
A- 34º10'30"N, 077º49'12"W
B- 33º56'42"N, 077º31'30"W
C- 33º36'30"N, 077º47'06"W
D- 33º28'24"N, 078º32'30"W
E- 32º59'06"N, 078º50'18"W
F- 31º50'00"N, 080º33'12"W
G- 31º27'00"N, 080º51'36"W
and west back to the shore.
Seasonal Management Areas - Southeast
Calving and Nursery Grounds, November 15–April 15
Vessel speed is restricted in the area bounded to the north by latitude 31º27'N; to the south by latitude 29º45'N; to the east by longitude 080º51'36"W.
Right Whale Slow Zones
Right Whale Slow Zones is a program that notifies vessel operators of areas where maintaining speeds of 10 knots or less can help protect right whales from vessel collisions. Under this program, NOAA Fisheries provides maps and coordinates to vessel operators indicating areas where right whales have been detected. Mariners are encouraged to avoid these areas or reduce speeds to 10 knots or less while transiting through these areas for 15 days.
Right Whale Slow Zones are established around areas where right whales have been recently seen or heard; these areas are identical to Dynamic Management Areas (DMA) when triggered by right whale visual sightings but, they will also be established when right whale detections are confirmed from acoustic receivers.
NOAA Fisheries announces Right Whale Slow Zones to mariners through its customary maritime communication media and displays any active zones below, with the most recent designation first.
All boaters from Maine to Virginia, or interested parties, can sign up for email or text notifications about the latest Right Whale Slow Zones. You can also follow us on Facebook (@NOAAFisheriesNEMA) and Twitter (@NOAAFish_GARFO) for announcements.
Current Slow Zones
Southeast of Nantucket, MA DMA SLOW Zone: Effective September 21-October 6, 2022
Waters bounded by:
NORTHERN BOUNDARY: 41°22' N
SOUTHERN BOUNDARY: 40°36' N
EASTERN BOUNDARY: 69°15' W
WESTERN BOUNDARY: 70°13' W
Dynamic Management Areas
Voluntary Dynamic Management Areas (DMAs) may be established by NOAA Fisheries based on visual sightings documenting the presence of three or more right whales within a discrete area. Mariners are encouraged to avoid these areas or reduce speeds to 10 knots or less while transiting through these areas. DMAs are announced to mariners through its customary maritime communication media and display any active ones, with the most recent designation first.
Great South Channel Area to Be Avoided
For ships weighing 300 gross tons or more, a voluntary seasonal Area To Be Avoided (ATBA) is in effect each year from April 1 to July 31, when right whales face their highest risk of ship strikes in this area.
Boston, Massachusetts Traffic Separation Scheme
The North-South lanes of the Traffic Separation Scheme servicing Boston were narrowed from 2 miles to 1.5 miles (consistent with the East-West Boston Traffic Separation Scheme lanes) to reduce vessel collisions with whales.
Charts of Approaches to Boston Traffic Separation Scheme and Area to be Avoided
- 13200: Georges Bank and Nantucket Shoals
- 13203: Georges Bank Western Part
- 13006: West Quoddy Head to New York
Recommended Routes in Key Right Whale Habitats
NOAA established recommended vessel routes in four locations to reduce the likelihood of ship collisions in key right whale habitats in Massachusetts, Georgia, and Florida.
- Recommended routes (PDF, 2 pages)
Mandatory Ship Reporting System
When ships greater than 300 gross tons enter two key right whale habitats—one off the northeast U.S. and one off the southeast U.S.—they are required to report to a shore-based station.
In return, ships receive a message about right whales, their vulnerability to ship strikes, precautionary measures the ship can take to avoid hitting a whale, and locations of recent sightings.
Mandatory Ship Reporting System areas will soon be available on all NOAA Electronic Navigation Chart products.
Report a Vessel Strike
Report vessel strikes to the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Where Are Right Whales?
- Mapping application for right whale sightings in the North Atlantic Ocean
- Acoustic detections in Cape Cod Bay and the Boston TSS
- Download the Whale Alert app for iPad and iPhone