For the second year in a row, the majority of vessels passing through the Cabot Strait, between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia on Canada’s East Coast, are not complying with a Transport Canada voluntary slowdown request intended to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in a key migratory passage. The Strait is also the primary route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the country’s second-busiest port in Montreal.
The voluntary initiative, established in 2020, calls for vessels over 13 metres long to slow down to 10 knots in a portion of the Cabot Strait between April 28 and June 15, and October 1 and November 15, when the right whales generally travel through the strait.
Oceana Canada, a charity focused on ocean conservation, released on May 27 results of a review of vessel speeds in the voluntary slowdown zone between April 28 and May 4. In 64% of transits, ships failed to comply with the 10-knot slowdown speed. This result is worse than that from the same week last year, when 55% of transits did not comply.
The organisation is now calling on Transport Canada to make the Cabot Strait slowdown mandatory and season long before the whales arrive in 2022.
One study found that slowing vessel speeds to 10 knots or less can reduce the lethality of a collision by 86%, said Ocean Canada in a release.
When they were announced in 2020, Michelle Sanders, director of clean water policy at Transport Canada, said trying voluntary measures would help determine the risks around imposing a speed limit. “We do know that for some of the smaller communities and for the cruise industry, a mandatory slowdown could have a significant impact on some of their routes,” she said.
Sanders also noted, according to CBC News, that weather in the Cabot Strait can be severe and sometimes unpredictable, which means slowing down might not always be possible. “Especially at those times of year at the beginning and the end of the season, the weather can be really challenging,” she said. “We don’t want to put the vessel or the crew at risk.”
On the brink of extinction, there are now fewer than 360 North Atlantic right whales left in the world. There have been 21 known right whale deaths in Canadian waters between 2017 and 2020.