Speed limits on commercial shipping have been re-imposed in the Gulf of St Lawrence after two endangered right whales were spotted this week

A right whale near a large ship in the Bay of Fundy, In 2017 several whale deaths were attributed to being hit by faster moving ships, resulting in speed limits being imposed by the Canadian government. (Kara Mahoney Robinson/New England Aquarium)

Transport Canada fines ship for exceeding whale safety speed limit

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Transport Canada has issued a $6,000 fine to a vessel that allegedly breached mandatory speed limits introduced by the federal government in parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales, Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced Thursday.

Since June, officials have reported six deaths of right whales, including four breeding age females, in Canadian waters. Necropsies performed on the carcasses of these whales confirmed the cause of death for three whales as blunt force trauma consistent with ship strikes.

There are only about 400 North Atlantic right whales left and with fewer than 100 reproductive females the death of any right whale causes huge concern.

“The recent deaths of several North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are extremely concerning,” Garneau said in a statement. “Our government is determined to take all action necessary to promote the safe coexistence of marine mammals and ship traffic in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”

The federal government continues to work with the maritime industry, science experts, and the U.S. partners to monitor the situation and address any risks faced by the North Atlantic right whale, Garneau added.

The deaths of giant marine mammals have prompted Ottawa to introduce several new measures designed to protect them, including further reduction of ship speeds in the area, increasing zones in which the speed restrictions will apply, increasing aerial surveillance and funding for initiatives to enhance marine mammal response.

On July 8, 2019, Transport Canada announced additional precautionary measures to those already in effect since April 28, to address the risks whales face from vessel activity.

These included expanding the current slowdown zone further east where vessels are required to travel at 10 knots throughout the season, and a new slowdown shipping lane where vessels are required to slow down to 10 knots when a North Atlantic right whale is spotted in the area, Transport Canada said.

Mandatory speed restrictions were expanded to include any vessel over 13 metres long; previously the restriction applied to vessels 20 metres and over.

In addition, Transport Canada augmented its whale monitoring activity by its National Aerial Surveillance Program and increased surveillance to two flights per day, weather permitting.

To ensure speed restriction compliance, Transport Canada along with the Canadian Coast Guard’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centres monitors marine traffic in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Vessels that do not comply with the speed limit risk getting fines ranging from $6000 to $25,000, depending on the severity of the infraction and repeated offences, Transport Canada said.

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