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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Trees Cannabis director fined $1.5 million for selling marijuana

Fine follows provincial crackdown on popular dispensary

Victims tell of abuse at hands of Victoria substitute teacher

Harry Charles Sadd pleaded guilty to eight charges that took place between 1970 to 1982

2020 Budget: ICBC ‘dumpster fire’ to turn into $86M surplus, NDP say

ICBC operating with $91-million deficit for 2019-2020 fiscal year

Resident mistakes screaming teens’ late-night plunge for an emergency

Big week for Oak Bay Police who respond to rampant theft in Oak Bay, host Polar Plunge

Victoria budtenders become first private cannabis workers to unionize in Canada

Two of seven Clarity Cannabis storefronts vote to join UFCW 1518 union

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 18

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you support the proposed changes for ICBC?

Tuesday’s provincial budget predicted a shift from shortfall to surplus in wake… Continue reading

World Cup skier from Okanagan dies suddenly at 19

Kuroda, who made his World Cup debut earlier this year, passed away suddenly Monday night.

Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

What’s in a name? The story of Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie

It’s likely the iconic peak had several Indigenous peoples’ names before settlers arrived

Budget 2020: B.C. Liberals blast ‘Netflix tax,’ lack of economic plan

ICBC rates still go up, except in election year, Shirley Bond says

Teen snowmobiler from Kelowna found after air force’s overnight search

The teen had been missing since just after 6 p.m. on Monday

Most Read