Ships asked to slow down for whales

Sightings near Delaware Bay
February 12, 2013
North Atlantic right whales recently were sighted off the Delaware coast. SOURCE NOAA

North Atlantic Right Whales have been sighted off the Delaware shore, prompting speed warnings for ships and large boats passing by.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration information, Coast Guard officials spotted five whales Feb. 7.

The mouth of the Delaware Bay is considered a dynamic management area for the whales to protect them; NOAA placed a speed restriction on ships and boats in the area after they were seen. The speed restriction will remain in effect until Feb. 22.

Sea vessels 65-feet long or longer are asked to slow down to 10 knots in the Delaware Bay to avoid collision with the endangered whales, NOAA states.

The mouth of the Delaware Bay is one of several areas along the Mid-Atlanic that is considered a migratory and calving ground for right whales annually Nov. 1 through April 30.

Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute Executive Director Suzanne Thurman said she heard the whales were sighted but has no further information. She said mother right whales are known to bring their yearling calves to the Delaware Bay in order to wean them and teach them how to feed themselves.

North Atlantic Right Whales are an endangered species; experts estimate fewer than 500 remain.

The whales are black with white patches on their heads. They have paddle-shaped flippers and no dorsal fin – a characteristic that makes them easy to spot, Thurman said.

Grown whales are 50 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons. A calf is 14 feet long at birth. They are baleen whales that feed on zooplankton and other sea life by skimming the surface of the water. Experts believe they live about 50 years, but there are indications that some could live more than 100 years.

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