Canada reverses speed restrictions meant to protect right whales in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Click to play video: 'Scientists return from studying North Atlantic right whales' Scientists return from studying North Atlantic right whales
WATCH (July 24, 2019): A team of researchers returned from a 15-day mission to learn the feeding patterns and the relocation of the endangered right whales to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Callum Smith has more – Jul 24, 2019

The Government of Canada announced on Friday evening that it has reversed the speed restrictions placed on shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence meant to protect endangered right whales.

Their decision comes after Transport Canada’s surveillance program — which flew 44 missions in the past month — failed to detect any North Atlantic right whales in the shipping lanes.

READ MORE: International shipping industry under the microscope as whale death toll grows

“After a period of intense aerial surveillance and a mandatory slowdown, I can report that no North Atlantic right whales have been spotted in the shipping lanes — areas vital to our marine transportation industry,” said Transportation Minister Marc Garneau in a statement.

“Although we are allowing vessels to transit at safe operating speeds in the designated shipping lanes, if even one North Atlantic right whale is spotted, we will immediately implement another slowdown.”

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Transport Canada had implemented the mandatory slowdown the shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island on June 26, 2019, after the carcass of a fifth right whale was found dead in Canadian waters.

Those measures were expanded on July 8, 2019, when the government extending the area of the restrictions.

WATCH: North Atlantic right whales in 2019 on Global News

Despite those measures, the death toll of the endangered species continued to rise in July, with three additional carcasses raising the total to eight this year.

Although necropsies have only been completed on a handful of carcasses, the deaths have been blamed on collisions with vessels or entanglement with fishing gear.

No additional right whales have been found dead in Canadian waters since July 19.

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Transport Canada says the speed restrictions caused vessels to take more direct routes to transit through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, bringing them closer to known whale locations

“In order to encourage vessel traffic in areas where no North Atlantic right whales have been spotted, vessels will once again be able to maximize efficient routes to transit through the Gulf,” the government said in a press release.

READ MORE: As death toll rises, scientists struggle to track massive, elusive right whales

Three vessels were reported to have broken the mandatory speed restrictions put in place by the government.

Transport Canada issued $7,800 speeding fines to two cargo vessels: the Americaborg, a Dutch container ship, and the Atlantic Spirit, a bulk carrier registered in Hong Kong.

A third vessel, cited for a $6,000 fine on July 18, was the Big Eagle, a 52-metre luxury yacht. And a fourth vessel — the bulk carrier Milos Warrior — was “sanctioned” on May 30 for an alleged infraction on Nov. 3.

There are estimated to be as few as 400 of the large mammals left alive in the world.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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