Luck Changes for Endangered Right Whales

It’s been a good month for right whales! The endangered species — numbering around 400 — have been taken care of in both political and scientific endeavors.

As of Dec. 9, a new law requires ships (of 65 feet or longer) to slow down to 11.5 miles per hour near East Coast ports that could have whales nearby. Nearly one-third of right whale deaths in the past 10 years were related to ships because the whales feed close to the sea surface. Evidence shows that if a right whale is hit by a ship moving 11.5 miles per hour or less, the chance of them dying drops to about 20 percent, compared to a greater than 80 percent chance if the ship is traveling 17 miles per hour.

Whale researchers also are attempting to find a way to avoid collisions between ships and right whales. To do this, they plan to listen to the whales’ baby talk off the coast of Georgia this calving season. According to an article in the Savannah Morning News, these animals vocalize to locate each other. (For an example of whales communicating, read Ocean Noise from our sister publication Utne Reader.) If scientists can track where the vocalizations are coming from, ships will be able to determine a right whales’ presence more accurately, even without actually spotting it. To find out how much the whales talk, researchers plan to attach temporary recording devices to 10 right whale cows that have calves. They suspect that they will be able to track the recorded calls between mother and calf and use it to their — and the whales’ — advantage.

For more information on whales, read Utne’s Deep Blue Dissonance.