Operation Right Speed: Coast Guard and NOAA Implement Regulations To Protect Whales

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Right whale and calf. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Article by Auxiliarist Mary Bethea, Harrisburg, PA

Many people many not know it, but right whales  are the rarest of all large whales. Experts estimate that only several hundred Northern right whales exist in the wild because they were hunted to near extinction.  This is one of the very reasons that Operation Right Speed has been put in effect until the end of April 2012, reminding larger vessels sailing along the Atlantic Seaboard to slow down for right whales.

Operation Right Speed is a coordinated effort between the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect the endangered species during seasonal migration and to educate mariners about these routes.  NOAA has implemented regulations that require vessels 65 feet or greater to operate at 10 knots or less in areas where the right whales are known to migrate.


The 300 or so right whales found along the east coast of the United States have certain “home bases” for particular times of the year. These regions extend from Massachusetts to Florida and encompass feeding grounds, calving and nursery zones, as well as the migratory routes. By reducing your vessel’s speed in the restricted zones, you can be an ocean steward and help ensure these migratory mammals have a safe passage.

Besides protecting the right whales, the true end goal is to rehabilitate the population.

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  1. Greg Miller says:

    It is a bit too exciting when a whale unexpectedly surface in close proximity while underway. I have been doused on deck by a lone whale that appeared to come out of nowhere, had 80,000 lbs of Humpback breach close aboard, heard whale songs resonating loudly through the hull and smelled the sour breath of a minke, long before I saw the spouts from the pod. Up north they call Minke whales, “Stinkies”. Cetaceans are amazing creatures, and a bit of forewarning that they are in local waters is always appreciated from the helm. Well done Coast Guard for keeping us all informed so that mariners and Cetaceans can both use the waters without incident. And, if operating off of Boston in the summer months you might want to keep a share eye for Basking Sharks lounging on the surface. Like many whales they are harmless plankton strainers. They are good sized and all you see is their floppy black dorsal as they move slowly along on the surface.

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