BOSTON – Rare whales have been detected east of Boston, prompting the federal government to take action in an attempt to protect the animals.
Whales are North Atlantic right whales, of which there are only about 360 in the world. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected the presence of whales 35 nautical miles east of Boston on January 25.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has created a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone or “slowdown zone” in the region. The agency is asking mariners to circle or cross the area at 10 knots or less.
Endangered right whales calve off Florida and Georgia in the fall before arriving in New England waters to feed in late winter and early spring, congregating on Stellwagen Bank, a fishing area about 15 miles southeast of Gloucester, and off Cape Cod.
Whales are vulnerable to collisions with vessels and entanglement in fishing gear. NOAA has said the Boston Slow Zone is in effect until February 9.
The Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Board meets on Thursday, January 29 via Zoom. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Director Dan McKiernan will present the agency’s recommendations for protecting whales – which also include the use of weaker, detachable vertical buoy lines to help mitigate gear entanglements – and the committee will vote.
Next week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will review the protective measures proposed in the amended federal plan to reduce catches of large whales. These steps include changing gear markers with state specific colors; require more traps between the lines of buoys to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water; the placement of weaker and brittle buoy lines; and allowing cordless fishing in areas otherwise subject to seasonal restrictions.
Public comment on the harvest reduction plan and its draft environmental study closes March 1.