In an effort to protect the endangered Rice’s whale, the NOAA is considering regulations in parts of the Gulf of Mexico that would include a 10-knot speed restriction.
Only 51 Rice’s whales are believed to exist in the world – and now the United States is considering vessel speed restrictions in the Gulf of Mexico to help protect them.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has opened a period of public comment on vessel regulations including a 10-knot speed restriction in the whale’s primary habitat along the Florida coast. The regulations would also include no vessel transit at night.
The restrictions could be impacted by legislation recently proposed in Congress that would prohibit the NOAA from issuing speed reduction regulations until technological solutions that help track whales and avoid strikes are implemented.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Rice’s whales, which are listed as endangered, are most threatened by vessel strikes, energy exploration activities and related problems such as industrial noise and oil spills, getting tangled in fishing gear and ingestion of marine debris. Scientists estimate more than 20% of the whales were killed because of the 2010 BP oil disaster.
Also called the Gulf of Mexico whale, the Rice’s whale is a member of the baleen whale family. (These are the whales that eat by taking in huge amounts of water and then filtering it back out through netting-like baleen that sits where other animals have teeth in order to capture prey.) According to the NOAA, they mostly prefer the northeastern Gulf of Mexico and live mainly in an area off the coast between the Florida cities of Pensacola and Tampa. Scientists believe they may have formerly regularly inhabited a wider area of the gulf, but noise from industrial drilling pushed them into deeper, quieter waters near Florida.
The first Rice’s whale was documented in 1965, but until 2021 they were considered a subspecies of the Byrd’s whale.
Tagged 10-knot speed restriction, Gulf of Mexico, noaa, Rice’s whale