A North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Michael Dwyer

Government lifts speed restrictions after spotting no whales in shipping lanes

Lower speed limit had driven cargo ships out of the lanes so they could take more direct routes

The federal government has lifted speed restrictions meant to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after finding that the policy may have been pushing ships closer to the endangered mammals.

There weren’t any whales in the shipping lanes where speed had been reduced, Transport Canada announced Friday, adding that the lower speed limit had driven cargo ships out of the lanes so they could take more direct routes through areas where the animals are known to gather.

The agency said it hopes that raising the speed limit will push ships back into the lanes.

“Although we are allowing vessels to transit at safe operating speeds in the designated shipping lanes, if even one North Atlantic right whale is spotted, we will immediately implement another slowdown,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a written statement issued Friday.

Transport Canada said it came to the decision after its aerial surveillance team spent 240 hours flying over the gulf over the past month, scouring the waters for whales.

The speed restrictions were initially introduced in April and expanded in area in June and July as a growing number of whales were found dead or dying.

So far in 2019, eight right whales have died in Canadian waters — the worst death toll since 2017 when 12 of the species were found dead in Canada and five others died in the United States.

But one expert said the reversed policy could be a misstep on the government’s part.

“It is definitely a tough situation and they need to be attentive to the fact that trying to cut these regulations too close to the wire could — well, it’s like playing with fire. How close can you get your hand to the stove before you get burned?” said Sean Brillant, a senior conservation biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

“And they may end up getting burned.”

According to a whale tracking website used by researchers, Brillant said, the last time a right whale was seen in a shipping lane was on July 23, a little over a week before the speed restriction was lifted.

He said the fact that the government didn’t see whales in the shipping lanes while they were out doesn’t mean the whales aren’t there.

“I don’t think it’s a precautionary decision. I understand sort of why they’re doing it, but it’s certainly not precautionary … I am worried that they’re sort of pushing the limit a little bit,” Brillant said, adding that he doesn’t know what the solution is right now.

READ MORE: Ottawa fines two cargo ships for speeding in right whale protection zone

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

County approves hobby farm rezoning Aug. 8

Parcel hosts farm animal rescue operation

‘No Stone Left Alone’ returns to Wetaskiwin Nov. 2

Volunteers needed for poignant remembrance event

Wetaskiwin’s Horses of Hope event raised over $50,000

Organizers note 160 people attended charity dinner

Military posers insult real veterans: writer

Fake medals and bogus insignia insulting to service members

Two subdivisions given County of Wetaskiwin extensions

Both applicants given 12 month extensions to developments

Greta Thunberg meets with First Nations chief in Fort McMurray

Thunberg has turned her protest against climate change into a global movement

More beef products recalled due to possible E. coli contamination

The food safety watchdog has been investigating possible E. coli 0157:H7

Pot legalization has gone ‘well’, but ‘yellow flags’ on vaping: task force chair

Canada legalized cannabis for non-medical use on Oct. 17, 2018,

ELECTION 2019: Federal leaders hit final 24 hours of campaign

Many leaders remain in B.C. for the final hours of the campaign

Leaders pour it on with rallies, boosts for candidates as campaign reaches peak

The federal election campaign has reached a crescendo

Not a political question: Thunberg calls for climate action in Alberta

Edmonton police estimated the size of the crowd at about 4,000

Most Read