Cabot Strait | Oceana Canada

Right of way

Slow down ships to protect right whales



In recent years, large numbers of North Atlantic right whales have been seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in pursuit of their food: copepods. They enter the Gulf through the Cabot Strait, a busy shipping area.

It is almost impossible for fast-moving ships to avoid colliding with slow-moving right whales.  A ship strike can result in various kinds of injuries, like painful cuts from propellers, to death. Researchers have found that pregnant females and mothers with calves may be more susceptible to ship strikes, as they spend more time resting and nursing at the surface.

Transport Canada identified the Cabot Strait as an important area for right whales and announced a trial voluntary slowdown.

Using data from Global Fishing Watch, Oceana Canada revealed that between May 19 and 25, 2020, the vast majority of ships, 72 per cent, were not complying with the voluntary slowdown of 10 knots, exposing the fact that mandatory speed limits are needed to slow vessels down. The highest observed speed – 21.1 knots – was a Canadian cargo ship.

This data is part of an ongoing analysis. Oceana Canada has been sharing weekly reports of the exceptionally high level of non-compliance with the voluntary measures with Transport Canada, urging that they be made mandatory. Full methodology can be found here.

The solution is simple. The slowdown must be mandatory. Research has shown that mandatory season-long speed limits of 10 knots in certain areas reduced lethal ship collision risk levels by 86 per cent. Ships must travel slower through all right whale habitat.

To best protect right whales, Oceana Canada wants to see a mandatory slowdown in the Cabot Strait. Add your voice to help protect right whales today >>

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