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Small Vessel Speed Restriction in Cape Cod Bay to Protect Right Whales

BOSTON — As a result of the ongoing presence of endangered right whales, the Division of Marine Fisheries today announced that it is extending the small vessel speed restriction in Cape Cod Bay through May 15, 2021. Small vessels (less than 65’) are required to travel at speeds no greater than 10 knots in this area. A complementary federal speed restriction in the same area applies to vessels 65’ and greater until May 15. Right whales are highly susceptible to injury and death due to vessel collision, and state officials urge extreme caution when transiting in the area to protect this critically endangered species.

Right whales are common in Cape Cod Bay during late winter and early spring, and usually depart before May 1, when the restrictions affecting this area were scheduled to be lifted. On April 27 and 28, 2021, the Center for Coastal Studies conducted aerial surveillance that documented at least 160 right whales (about 40% of the known population) in Cape Cod Bay and along the South Shore, all of which were skim feeding at the surface or just below the surface. The intense feeding behavior makes the whales somewhat oblivious to their surroundings, often difficult to see, and highly susceptible to vessel collision. Ten right whale mother/calf pairs have also been documented in the area.

DMF advises all mariners to follow the speed limit and use extreme caution when transiting the area. Additionally, it is unlawful, under state and federal law, to approach a right whale within 500 yards. The Massachusetts Environmental Police will be enforcing the speed restriction. If a mariner observes a right whale entangled in fishing gear while on the water, they are urged to report it immediately to the Center for Coastal Studies (800-900-3622), the state Office of Environmental Law Enforcement (800-632-8075) or the federal Entanglement Hot Line: (866-755-6622).