A reminder for recreational boaters to keep their distance away and slow down from a school of right whales or be subjected to a hefty amount of fines, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Last year, four grand yachts were charged civil penalties because of speeding violations at faster than 10 knots or 11.5 miles per hour in right whale management. Per regulation, boats which are measured 65 feet or bigger are to travel at 11.5 mph or less in the course of the seasonal whale management areas along the East Coast. The fines for violating the speed limit can be as high as $13,200. Penalties for the said four speeding yachts varied from $9,000 up to $11,500.

As a result of this NOAA guideline, no right whale deaths have been attributed to ship strikes in the seasonal management areas since the rule was enacted. A NOAA Fisheries study indicated the measures have reduced the probability of fatal ship strikes of right whales by 80 to 90 percent.

Right whales, naturally docile with tendencies to stay near the coast and great producer of whale oil, were once the preferred preys of whalers as they reportedly consider them the "right" whales to hunt. They were easy targets due to their slow speed and they float after they die. At present, North Atlantic right whales, protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the US Endangered Species Act, are among the most critically endangered whales in the world and there are only 450 reported individuals in existence.

According to NOAA officials, the right whales are expected to migrate this month from their calving and breeding grounds off the coasts of Georgia and Florida to feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine. Right whales are known to first give birth at age nine or ten after a year-long gestation. Calves are 13-15 feet long at birth and weigh approximately 3,000 pounds.

Vessel strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to the recovery of right whales. In 2006, NOAA established a set of recommended vessel routes to reduce ship strikes in four important eastern-US right whale habitats.

Boaters are encouraged by NOAA officials to stay away from the whales, at least 100 yards or 300 feet and to never cut a whale's migration path, make a sudden change in the speed or direction of the ship or force apart a mother whale from her calf.

Photo: NOAA Photo Library | Flickr

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