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Commercial Vessel Restrictions: Southern Right Whales Protected in the US and Canada


Masters and crews who operate along the US/Canadian East Coast must now keep a lookout for North Atlantic Right whales, who live almost exclusively in this region. Transport Canada has recently announced that during the 2023 whale season, vessel traffic measures will be enforced in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from 19 April to 15 November. These restrictions will apply to all vessels over 13m in length.

Members and clients with trading vessels in this region are advised by Transport Canada to:

  • Ensure crews receive basic training in the precautionary measures to be taken when operating in areas where right whales are present, including identification and reporting.

  • Check for active speed reduction zones.

  • Encourage Masters to reduce the vessel’s speed to 10 knots or less while transiting areas with voluntary speed restrictions (DMAs), or alternatively route around the area, and to post lookouts that are familiar with spotting rights whales.

  • Review and update vessel procedures for pre-arrival reporting to make sure they are in line with provisions of the US Right Whale Mandatory Ship Reporting System.

  • Collect data and info about right whale sightings from all available resources.

  • Instruct crews not to intentionally approach within 500 yards (460m) of a North Atlantic right whale as this is a violation of US federal law.

  • Other vessels in the area should be alerted to the presence of right whales.


Violation of the mandatory North Atlantic right whale speed restriction can lead to legal action being taken against the vessel.

The requirements in Canada are as follows:

  • In the Northern and Southern Static Zones, a fixed mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots are in force during the entire whale season.

  • In the Dynamic Shipping Zones, A to E, a temporary mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots will enter into force when a right whale is spotted near or in the shipping lanes.

  • In the Seasonal Management Areas north and south of the Dynamic Shipping Zone E, a fixed mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots are in force from 19 April to 27 June. From 28 June to 15 November.

  • Restricted Area near the Shediac Valley: during the summer months, vessels more than 13 m in OAL are prohibited from entering the restricted area unless they are on the list of exempted vessels.

  • Voluntary Seasonal Slowdown Zone: In and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a voluntary speed restriction of maximum 10 knots are enforced in this zone during the periods 19 April to 27 June and 27 September to 15 November.

  • Operators of vessels of 300 gross tonnage or more of the Roseway Basin’s Area to be Avoided, which will be in force from 1 June to 31 December 2023.


credit: Transport Canada

US requirements as implemented by NOAA:


  • Mandatory ship reporting: Ships of 300 gross tons and above must report to a shore-based station when entering two key right whale habitats: one in the northeast off the coast of Massachusetts and Cape Cod (year-round reporting required) and one in the southeast off the coast of Georgia and Florida (reporting required between 15 November and 16 April).

  • Fixed speed restriction zones: All vessels 65 feet (19.8 m) in OAL or more must travel at 10 knots or less in certain locations, referred to as seasonal management areas (SMAs), along the US East Coast at certain times of the year.

  • Temporary speed reduction zones: Voluntary 10 knot speed restriction zones, referred to as dynamic management areas (DMAs) and slow zones, may be established at short notice when right whales are detected visually or acoustically.

  • Voluntary seasonal ‘Area To Be Avoided’ (ATBA): An ATBA has been established in the Great South Channel and ships of 300 gross tons and above are recommended to avoid the ATBA from 1 April 1 to July 31 when right whales face their highest risk of vessel strikes in this area.

  • Recommended shipping lanes: Recommended shipping lanes have been established within Cape Cod Bay (January through May) and in right whale nursery areas off Georgia and Florida (November through April).



To learn more about these restrictions, head to the Transport Canada website here.

Further information on right whales can be found on the NOAA website here.

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