Saturday, April 20, 2024

Oceana: Hundreds of Boats Were Speeding off Virginia Beach Prior to North Atlantic Right Whale Death


A new analysis from Oceana has found that hundreds of boats were speeding through both mandatory and voluntary slow zones designed to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Virginia Beach area in the weeks prior to a deadly boat strike.

On February 12, 2023, a 20-year-old male North Atlantic right whale was found dead off Virginia Beach. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classified the blunt-force traumatic injuries as the cause of death and consistent with those of a boat strike.

Using Ship Speed Watch, a tool launched by Oceana to monitor ship speeds in slow zones established to protect North Atlantic right whales, the ocean advocacy organization documented that during the period of February 1 – 11, 2023:

  • More than 200 boats larger than 65 feet long traveled through slow zones established by NOAA at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
  • Nearly seven out of 10 boats (158 boats) traveled above the speed limit of 10 knots (11.5 MPH) through either mandatory or voluntary slow zones.
  • One boat traveled as fast as 23.2 knots (26.7mph/43kph) — more than double the speed limit — within a designated mandatory slow zone.
  • Around half of the boats (106 boats) were found speeding in the mandatory slow zones.
  • In the days immediately preceding the discovery of the dead whale on February 12, more than 75% of the boats (77 boats) did not comply with the mandatory or voluntary speed limits between February 8 and 11.

According to Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana:

“Speeding boats and slow swimming whales are a recipe for disaster, but a preventable one. Current vessel speed limits are ineffective and made worse by the fact that they aren’t even properly enforced. NOAA knows this and has a pending new regulation that would update the slow zones established to protect the North Atlantic right whale. NOAA must immediately issue the final vessel speed measures before more whales needlessly die. These speed limits also need robust enforcement and accountability for those breaking the law. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and National Marine Fisheries Services Assistant Administrator Janet Coit are responsible for upholding the law and protecting endangered species – right now they are failing at both.”

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.