We’re pushing officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to act to protect the Rice’s whale by enacting speed restrictions on vessels traversing whale habitat. This measure is the most effective short-term step that can help protect the whales, which are in imminent danger of extinction.
let your voice be heard
There may be fewer than 50 rice’s whales in the gulf of mexico off of florida’s shores.
Researchers made a new discovery – what was once thought to be a sub-population of the Bryde’s whale in the Gulf of Mexico, is really a unique species of baleen whale—now named Rice’s Whale. There may be fewer than 50 Rice’s whales (recent estimates range from 26 to 44 remain), making them one of the most critically endangered whales in the world.
Little is known about this whale. They can grow up to 42 feet long and can weigh as much as 30 tons. They are filter-feeding baleen whales, but unlike their cousins, Bryde’s whales, they dive deep and feed near the seabed. Rice’s whales generally remain in the deep waters of the Desoto Canyon in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico, off of Florida.
The BP disaster affected about 48% of their habitat and killed 17% of their populations. In 2019, they were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it was thought that they were a sub-population of Bryde’s whales. Although their name and species will change, their status as endangered will not.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) found that the species was endangered due to its small population size and restricted range, and numerous threats posed by man’s activities in their habitat. Their greatest threats are ship strikes, ocean noise, energy exploration and development, oil spills, and entanglement in fishing gear and ocean debris. NMFS was required under the ESA to designate critical habitat for the Rice’s whale within a year of it being designated as endangered, but they have not done so. As a result, no action has been taken to reduce harm to the Rice’s whale or its habitat, possibly reducing its odds of survival.
First, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must designate critical habitat in the Gulf and develop a recovery plan that addresses current threats to the whale.
Second, NMFS must immediately implement measures to protect the whales, including:
- Establish a Vessel Strike Avoidance Zone covering the Rice’s whales core habitat, that at minimum:
- Imposes a ten-knot speed limit for all vessels traveling through the area;
- Requires all vessel operators to make every effort to avoid traveling through the Vessel Slowdown Zone at night or in low visibility conditions;
- Maintains a minimum separation distance of 500 meters from Rice’s whales; and
- Has visual observers monitor the vessel while in the Strike Avoidance Zone.
- Limit or stop seismic surveys within the listening range of the whales core habitat;
- Restrict or prohibit oil and gas exploration and development near the whale’s core habitat;
- Modify fishing activity with the whale’s core habitat.
To save the Rice’s whale, we must take swift action to protect their habitat. Action to remove or reduce threats to the whale’s primary habitat is crucial.
What Healthy Gulf Members Are Doing
Healthy Gulf continues to be a leader in the Fight to save the Rice’s Whale.
Healthy Gulf members sent thousands of comment letters demanding action to list the Rice’s whale under the Endangered Species Act to provide the necessary protection to save this species (then known as the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale).
When the federal government failed to act in a timely manner to list the whale as endangered, Healthy Gulf took them to court resulting in the listing of the whale in 2019.
Now, Healthy Gulf members are demanding that the the National Marine Fisheries Services designate critical habitat in the Gulf and develop a recovery plan that addresses current threats to the whale. We are asking for vessel speed restrictions that will give these whales immediate protection from vessel strikes.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
We’re pushing officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to act to protect the Gulf of Mexico whale (Rice’s whale) by enacting speed restrictions on vessels traversing whale habitat. This measure is the most effective short-term step that can help protect the whales, which are in imminent danger of extinction. NOAA is accepting public comments through July 6, 2023.
Take action today: Click the link HERE and copy and paste the below text into the comment box or write your own personalized comment. (personalized comments will have a greater impact)
I am writing to you today in support of the petition to set a year-round 10-knot vessel speed restriction in parts of the Gulf of Mexico to protect the endangered Rice’s whale from vessel strikes and noise pollution.
Fossil fuel exploration development and other human activities have made the Rice’s whale one of the most endangered large whale species in the world. The death of even a single reproductive-age female would jeopardize the existence of this species, a fact supported by NOAA’s own scientists.
Any way to mitigate risks to these whales’ survival should be implemented immediately. This includes mandatory speed limits and other reasonable measures governing vessel traffic within the whales’ habitat including:
- a mandatory 10-knot speed limit for vessels 65 ft or larger
- no vessel transits at night
- utilize visual observers and maintain a separation distance of 500 m from Rice’s whales
- use and operate an Automatic Identification System, or notify NMFS of transits through the habitat
- required reporting of deviations from these requirements to NMFS
Based on the latest science showing that these whales are consistently found in waters 100-400 meters deep all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border, these measures are needed not only within the whales’ previously identified “core habitat,” but throughout the Gulf. Slowing down for Gulf of Mexico whales is a key step and only one part of the protection that is needed. These whales can recover as long as conditions improve, but that all depends on our actions. Unless the Biden administration takes significant conservation actions, the U.S. is likely to cause the first extinction of a great whale species resulting from human activity. We cannot let that happen.
Thank you for your attention to this critically important issue.
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