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Editorials represent the institutional view of the newspaper. They are written and edited by the editorial staff, which operates separately from the news department. Editorial writers are not involved in newsroom operations.

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Editorial: Change federal rule to help save more whales

Right Whale Protection

This photograph provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources shows an endangered North Atlantic right whale entangled in fishing rope being sighted with a newborn calf on Dec. 2, 2021, in waters near Cumberland Island, Ga.  (Georgia Department of Natural Resources/NOAA Permit #20556 via AP)

It is believed that fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remain, and fewer than 100 of those are reproductively active females. It is the most endangered large whale species, and it’s up to us to help save these magnificent creatures from extinction.

That’s why we support a proposed federal rule change that would force more vessels to slow down when crossing certain regions of the ocean. Such a move is part of a strategy to provide safeguards that help conserve and rebuild the marine mammal’s population.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division proposal would expand current seasonal speed restrictions of about 12 mph or less to all vessels that are at least 35 feet long, The Post and Courier’s Shamira McCray reported. The rule now only covers vessels 65 feet or longer.

Reducing the size of vessel covered by the rule makes sense: Smaller vessels accounted for five of the dozen whales killed in U.S. waters since 2008, according to NOAA.

The proposal also outlines ways to increase the use of ropeless fishing gear. This is important because collisions and entanglements are among the leading causes of injury and death for the whales, which have been on the endangered species list since 1970.

Climate change and human-generated ocean noise also are concerns for the species, which was hunted nearly to extinction by the early 1890s.

Whaling is no longer a threat, but the whales have never recovered to their pre-whaling numbers, according to NOAA. We must take action before the whales’ declining numbers dwindle toward extinction.

It makes sense to have exemptions to the rule for emergencies, safety and national security.

We also must be mindful to balance the needs of the fishing community while addressing threats to the whales, just as we must strive to strike the right balance with other competing economic and environmental concerns.

The proposed rule change does that while also providing more protection for an endangered species that the government has a duty to help protect.

The environmental group Oceana also wants the federal government to require vessels to carry and transmit Automatic Identification System devices for public tracking and improve rule enforcement.

Both requests make sense because they would persuade more captains to obey the rules and strengthen accountability for those who don’t.

There are too many species in serious decline or in danger of disappearing altogether from the planet, and we need to do what we can to help them survive. The North Atlantic right whale is among those imperiled species.

The proposed vessel-speed rule change is one way to help do that.

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