The Endangered Species Act turns 40 years old on Dec. 28, and its impact on Georgia continues to evolve. Federal officials now are making permanent a speed limit for ships to protect endangered right whales.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used the law to enforce speed limits on a temporary basis five years ago. The speed limit rule requires ships 65 feet or longer to travel at 10 knots per hour or less during the whales' winter birthing season.
The administration’s Greg Silber says the speed limit has cut the number of fatal strikes.
"It was on an average of almost one per year, a right whale would be killed by a ship," Silber said. "And since it's been in place, there have been zero."
Silber says an analysis shows the slower speed costs shippers $45 million a year, two-thirds less than anticipated.
"In the time that we've had it in place there have been no fatal ship strikes of right whales," Silber said. "And various kinds of modeling studies have illustrated that the probability, the likelihood, of a fatal ship strike has been diminished by 80-90%."
The area off the Georgia and Florida coasts is the only place on the planet where right whales are known to give birth.