Petition to protect endangered Rice’s whale draws mixed reactions

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Rice's whale Or Gulf Of Mexico Whale (NOAA)
Rice's whale Or Gulf Of Mexico Whale. By NOAA.

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A petition is seeking to protect of one the most endangered whales in the world by creating restrictions near Florida’s west-coast ports. However,  the CEO of the Florida Ports Council says it may do more harm than good.

The petition seeks to protect the endangered Rice’s Whale. It restricts speeds for vessels and bans transit at night along waters from Pensacola to just south of Tampa.  It was submitted by various environmental groups to NOAA Fisheries.

Michael Jasny is a director with Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The loss of even a single one of these animals is tantamount to jeopardizing the survival of the whole species. What we’ve called for are a number of measures that are really focused on reducing that risk.”

He says that there are likely fewer than 100 of the whales remaining. They are the only resident baleen whale in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Unfortunately, you couldn’t design an animal that’s more vulnerable to collision with ships than Rice’s Whale. And that’s just because of the way that the whales go about their day. They spend their daytime hours diving for food, but at night they come quite close to the surface to rest – well within the draft of a large commercial ship, and that is the perfect spot to be struck.”

That’s why the proposed protections are tough.

“No night time vessel movements and a 10-knot speed limit, which in essence just means no commercial activity anywhere in that area.”

Possibly too tough, according to the CEO of the Florida Ports Council, Michael Rubin.

“Those international shipping lines that are coming into Florida are going to go ‘I can’t deal with this restriction. I’m just going to go somewhere else,’ So, it’s going to impact the jobs of all the maritime industry people that are there, and certainly impact those ports and their operations.”

Jasny, from the NRDC, says that the speed limits are a common practice in other parts of the country. As for the nighttime restrictions, he understands how that can pose a challenge to ports.

“Those kind of things are going to take time to think through.  I think what’s important is that we work collectively, roll up our sleeves, and see what more we can do to save the species.”

The comment period for the petition closes July 6th. Afterward, NOAA Fisheries will consider whether to accept or deny the petition.

You can provide comment here. 

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