Protecting North Atlantic right whales from collisions with ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Transport Canada have taken actions to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

For 2019, the mandatory speed restrictions came into force on 28 April 2019 and will stay in place until 15 November 2019, but can be extended should whales continue to be present.

This season, Transport Canada is using two measures to protect right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

1. Shown in pink in the map below, from April 28 to November 15, 2019, a fixed speed restriction is in place in a large area known as the speed reduction zone or the static zone in which:

  • vessels 20 metres and above cannot travel over 10 knots (except where required for safety reasons)
  • other vessels are encouraged to respect this limit

2. Shown in green, temporary speed restrictions are implemented in designated areas within the shipping lanes when a right whale is spotted in or near the shipping lane. These are identified as dynamic shipping sectors A, B, C, and D on the map.

Speed restrictions will be in effect in the shipping sectors as follows:

Two distinct situations will activate a speed restriction:

1. When at least one right whale is seen in:

  • dynamic shipping sectors north and/or south of Anticosti Island
  • a 2.5-nautical-mile buffer area adjacent to the dynamic shipping sector; OR

2. If a right whale is seen within 2.5 nautical miles of a border between sectors, a speed restriction will be activated in the adjacent sector.

Each speed restriction will be in force for 15 days. If right whales are not seen with surveillance flights during the 15-day period, the speed restriction will be lifted at the end of the period.

When unable to complete one aerial surveillance flight within a 7-day period, usually due to weather, the speed restriction will apply to the dynamic shipping sector(s) until another surveillance flight confirms there are no right whales present. Surveillance flights take place as soon as weather conditions improve to allow for proper surveillance of the right whales.

Compliance and enforcement

To verify compliance, vessel data provided by the Canadian Coast Guard is used.

If a vessel appears to have gone over the 10 knot speed limit, their marine safety inspectors will:

  • review information from the Canadian Coast Guard;
  • seek additional evidence by contacting the vessel's master. This will allow for the collection of more data including information from the vessel’s log book and the verification of its content with the master.

Exemptions are not granted, but the following factors will be considered:

  • operational decisions made by the vessel’s master to maintain vessel safety
  • weather and navigational conditions
  • decisions made in response to emergencies

If it is determined that a vessel did not comply with the right whale speed restrictions, vessel owners could be fined from $6,000 to $25,000.

If a fine is issued, vessel owners will have 30 days to pay the penalty or to ask the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada to review the facts of the alleged violation or the amount of the penalty.

Additional information can be found on the Transport Canada website.

Katie Hill

Senior Loss Prevention Technician