By Tammi Kosack
October 25, 2022
It’s been a while since we’ve seen agreement between these two parties so perhaps the tides are shifting.
At its Oct. 18 meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission proclaimed November North Atlantic Right Whale Month. Mayor Mike Lednovich gave a big shoutout to our local all-volunteer group of Amelia Island Whale Ambassadors for their steadfast commitment to tirelessly work at reversing the decline of the right whale population through both education and action.
North Atlantic right whales are a federally protected species—considered the most endangered of the large whales—with only 336 left at last count and fewer than 70 calving females. These right whales live in the North Atlantic coastal waters and migrate seasonally to the warmer waters from South Carolina to North Florida in order to calve their young. As these are the only known calving areas, the waters off Amelia Island are critical in protecting the mothers and their nursing calves from November through April.
Originally prized for the high whale oil content, these gentle giants are docile and slow moving, creating an easy target for the whale hunters of yore. Called the “right whale” to hunt since it was a slow target that then floated after being killed, they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1890s. Today their importance is in helping to keep the marine ecosystem balanced by redistributing nutrients where they travel.
Over the years the threat of the hunter has been replaced by fast moving vessels. Since 2017 there has been an unusually high mortality rate of North Atlantic right whales, with the leading cause attributed to vessel strikes. The whales are hard to spot, travel near the water’s surface to eat and nurse, and cannot easily move out of the path of an oncoming boat or ship. The only solution is for the vessels to slow down.
As such, NOAA has proposed an amendment to the vessel strike reduction rule to cover the Southeast calving area. (See full rule at end of article). The current rule has a 10-knot limit for vessels greater than 65 feet in length. The amendment decreases the length to 35 feet and would be in effect during the calving season from Nov. 15-April 15 each year.
There has been pushback from the American (harbor) Pilots Association and the Chamber of Shipping of America, claiming the slowdown is dangerous for the harbor pilots. These groups have requested local agencies and governments take a position and submit formal letters opposing the amendment.
However, Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) chair Danny Fullwood stood firm against writing a letter that would denounce the amendment. Instead, he acknowledged the large local contingency of right whale enthusiasts and said, “Personally I don’t think we need to write a letter.” In not taking a position, OHPA joined countless local volunteers in the goal of trying to help reverse the trend of decline to extinction of the right whales and recognized the community-wide effort.
When a species becomes endangered, it is a sign that the ecosystem is slowly falling apart. Each species that is lost triggers the loss of other species within its ecosystem. Humans depend on healthy ecosystems to purify our environment.
And we depend on each other to do the RIGHT thing in promoting, preserving, protecting this species and the habitat it seasonally calls home.
Thank you OHPA and City Commission for your recent actions to this effect.
Hooked and wondering how you can get involved or learn more?
Join over 31,000 others and send your comments regarding the speed amendment to the Federal Register before October 31. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/08/01/2022-16211/amendments-to-the-north-atlantic-right-whale-vessel-strike-reduction-rule
Attend the annual Right Whale Festival Nov. 5 and 6 at Main Beach. http://www.rightwhalefestival.com/