OTTAWA — For the second year in a row, Oceana Canada has found that the majority of vessels are not complying with a voluntary slowdown meant to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Cabot Strait. Transport Canada must do all it can to protect right whales by making the slowdown mandatory.
Using Global Fishing Watch data as part of an ongoing multi-year analysis, Oceana Canada today released one week of results of vessel speeds in the Cabot Strait voluntary slowdown zone. The Cabot Strait is a key passage for right whales as they migrate into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in search of food.
Sixty-four per cent of transits – 65 out of 101, involving 58 vessels – failed to comply with the 10-knot voluntary slowdown from April 28 to May 4, the first week the measure was in place in 2021. The highest observed speed was 17.4 knots. This is worse than the results from the same week in 2020, the first year of the program, in which 55 per cent of transits did not comply with the slowdown (67 out of 122, involving 56 vessels).
Oceana Canada is calling on Transport Canada to immediately make the Cabot Strait slowdown mandatory.
“Despite the sighting of a right whale in the Cabot Strait on April 26, two days before the slowdown went into effect on April 28, and this being the second year of the program, vessel compliance remains shockingly low. Without making this slowdown mandatory, critically endangered whales, including mothers with calves, are being put at risk of being killed or injured by a vessel strike,” said Kim Elmslie, campaign director for Oceana Canada. “We are calling on Transport Canada to put mandatory measures in place before April 28, before the whales arrive, in 2022 to best protect right whales from vessel strikes.”
With fewer than 360 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, they are on the brink of extinction. There have been 21 known right whale deaths in Canadian waters between 2017 and 2020.
The slower and smaller the vessel is, the higher the likelihood of a whale surviving a collision. One study found that slowing vessel speeds to 10 knots or less can reduce the lethality of a collision by 86 per cent. Other research has identified that compliance with slowdowns is significantly higher when a measure is mandatory.
“We are concerned that the voluntary slowdown creates a disincentive for compliance and an unfair advantage for those who ignore it. That is why Transport Canada must make the slowdown a season-long – the entire time the whales are known to be in the area – and mandatory measure,” said Elmslie.
In February 2021, Oceana Canada released The Edge of Extinction, Protecting North Atlantic Right Whales. For information about the analysis and to learn more, visit: Oceana.ca/Cabot-Strait.
Contacts: Tammy Thorne, Oceana Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org, 437-247-0954 and Kathleen Munro, Pilot PRM, email@example.com, 902-789-3165