NOAA HELPS OCEAN RACERS AVOID RIGHT WHALES
April 18, 2006 — Every four years the world's oceans, including the Atlantic, play host to the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. Introduced more than 32 years ago by England's Whitbread Company and the British Royal Naval Sailing Association, the race tests seamanship, craftsmanship, and raw-knuckle busting-hard work and endurance. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Volvo Ocean Race map. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
This year's competition began in November 2005 and ends June 2006, and covers more than 28,000 miles of open oceans and 10 ports of call, including Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland, and New York City. With considerable time spent in the active (marine mammal) waters of the Atlantic, the safety of race participants and marine species such as the endangered North Atlantic right whale is improved greatly with the help of the NOAA Right Whale Sighting Advisory System.
Throughout the race's trek across the North Atlantic, the NOAA Fisheries Service has been providing reliable and timely information on whale locations to Volvo Ocean Race organizers to ensure the safety of race participants and the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center aerial survey team aboard a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft confirms and collects sightings of migrating right whales along the coastal waters of the northeastern United States and disseminates whale sighting locations to race organizers as well as hundreds of other mariners who are transiting waters shared by right whales.
The team flies a series of systematic track lines throughout the year, tracking whales inside areas known to be critical habitat, as well as surveying where whales commonly occur. The team's sightings are posted on the Internet along with sightings provided by ship-based surveys and opportunistic sightings from the U.S. Coast Guard, whale watch vessels, commercial ships and fishing vessels. At times, sighting locations are broadcast on NOAA weather radio to sea-going vessels. In 2005, the survey crew flew 129 missions covering more than 50,000 miles of track lines. Since 1998, the NOAA aerial surveys have tracked up to two-thirds of the remaining North Atlantic right whale population off southern New England each spring. (Click NOAA image for larger view of North Atlantic right whale as seen in the Florida Gulf Coast on Feb. 27, 2006. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
"It's been very helpful for both the sailors and the whales alike," said Andy Hindley, Volvo Ocean Race director. "Traveling at 20-plus knots in what is effectively a silent sailboat is always a problem for both the boats and the whales when it comes to collision avoidance."
Listed as endangered since 1973, North Atlantic right whales are the rarest of all large whale species that live off the northeastern United States, and among the rarest of all large marine mammal species. The North Atlantic population numbers linger around 300. Right whale populations, historically, were severely depleted by commercial whaling. Because right whales are slow moving coastal swimmers and have a thick layer of blubber allowing them to float when dead, they were an easy and profitable species for whalers to harvest in the age of whaling in the United States. (Click NOAA image for larger view of right whales whose sightings are confirmed by the NOAA Right Whale Sighting Advisory System and their locations provided to sea-going vessels. Click here for high resolution version taken Feb. 13, 2005. Please credit “NOAA.”)
Ship collisions, prop strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are now the most common causes of serious injury and death of North Atlantic right whales. Additional disturbances from activities such as whale watching and noise from industrial activities may affect the population as well. To reduce disturbance from boats, the NOAA Fisheries Service published regulations in 1997 that prohibit vessels from approaching right whales within 500 yards.
agency of the U.S. Department of
Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national
safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related
events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal
and marine resources.
Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Right Whale Sighting Advisory System—Latest Right Whale Sightings