Cape Cod

Cape Cod Canal Reopens After Closing to Let Endangered Right Whales Move Through

Three endangered North Atlantic right whales were spotted in Cape Cod Canal on Sunday.

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The Cape Cod Canal was closed from Sunday until Monday morning as several endangered North Atlantic right whales moved through the waterway.

The U.S. Coast Guard - Northeast announced Sunday afternoon that the US Army Corp of Engineers had closed the canal to all vessel traffic due to the presence of three right whales. Almost six hours later, the Coast Guard said the canal would remain closed overnight.



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An Environmental Police spokesperson told the Boston Globe that the closure caused a backup of commercial vessels waiting to pass through the canal.

The U.S. Coast Guard announced at 9:30 a.m. that the canal had had reopened.

The fading North Atlantic right whale is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The whale has been in decline since 2010, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the most recent published estimate of the population size in 2019 at 368 whales "with a strong male bias."

Data from 2020 and 2021 "suggest the decline has continued and that fewer than 350 individuals remain." NOAA attributed the decline to "high levels of human-caused mortality caused by entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes in both the U.S. and Canada."

In January, federal officials invoked an emergency rule to ban lobster and crab trap and pot fishermen from working in a vast area of Massachusetts Bay over the next three months, citing threats to the endangered whale.

NOAA said on Jan. 31 that the emergency rule, which was also deployed in 2022, means that trap and pot fishermen fishing federal waters in an area known as the Massachusetts Restricted Area Wedge "must remove all trap/pot gear from this area, and may not reset trawls being actively fished, or set new trawls in this area for the period from February 1 - April 30, 2023."

NOAA cited a "high likelihood that endangered right whales are present throughout this area and in adjoining waters during February through April" and said fishing in that area "poses a particularly high risk of mortality or serious injury from entanglement in fishing gear."

The risk exists, officials said, when right whales are exiting Cape Cod Bay at the same time and place where fishermen are either fishing or staging their gear in preparation for the May 1 opening of federal waters in the Massachusetts Restricted Area. NOAA said it was implementing the rule "at the request of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

NBC10 Boston/State House News Service
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