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Alabama Port Authority rejects possible whale-saving rule

A petition under consideration by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect the endangered Rice’s whales by limiting vessel activity passed its public comment period on July 6.

The petition — submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earth justice, and the New England Aquarium — asks NOAA to impose a 10-knot speed limit and a shutdown of nighttime vessel traffic in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

De Soto Canyon, an area of the Gulf 60 miles off Alabama’s coast and Florida’s panhandle, is the core habitat of Rice’s whales, also known the Gulf of Mexico whale. An estimate of 2018 data suggested 51 individual whales remain in the Gulf, with abundance decreasing. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed 17 percent of the Rice’s whale population, several external threats — oil, marine debris, and vessel strikes — have put the species at high risk of extinction.

The petitioners suggest vessel strikes could be reduced by imposing a 10-knot slowdown zone in waters from approximately Pensacola, Florida to Tampa, Florida. Since Rice’s whales are known to ascend to the upper 15 meters of the water column at night, the petitioners also suggest avoiding nighttime transit in the slowdown zone and maintaining a 500-meter distance from whales sighted.

Source : Alabama Reporter