The Federal government has proposed to ban fast ferries to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket between November 1 and May 30 of each year in an effort to protect the 350 North Atlantic Right Whales remaining on the planet.
This will turn a two hour round trip for year round residents and essential workers into a six hour round trip. This will be devastating for Islanders, less so for those who can afford to fly. If it was the only way to save the whales, this monumental burden would be worth it. But the General Manager of the Steamship Authority says that in almost a quarter century of a half million fast ferry trips to both Islands no one has ever seen a Right Whale in the area that would be affected.
I first wrote and spoke about saving the whales in 1978 so you can certainly count me among the many who have been frustrated by the pace of the Federal government's effort to protect the Right Whales, and many of the other sea creatures that made the North Atlantic what it once was. I'm all for stringent effective regulation of everything from fishing to wind farming to transportation to that end.
Is banning fast ferries for seven months of the year the most effective way to protect the few Right Whales left? This summer Popular Science reported on the efficacy of buoy enabled microphones developed by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Cornell University (Go Big Red!) to effectively detect and avoid whales in shipping channels (https://www.popsci.com/environment/sperm-whale-detection-system-ship). Why can't such microphones work in specially defined channels between Hyannis and Falmouth and Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard? Given the urgency of the Right Whales' plight, of course the Federal government should pay to deploy these systems so we can see if they work. And the Governments of the United States and Canada should make it a priority to develop the capacity to keep track of the Right Whales remaining and where they actually go. These things should happen immediately. Until they do, the Federal government will be subject to legitimate questions about the efficacy of its whale protection plans.
"In the 22 years since we've been running high-speed service for both (Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard) routes - 500,000 trips back and forth between the two islands - during that time none of our crews have documented seeing any right whales in the Sound," Davis said. "We feel that area should be excluded much like Long Island Sound is excluded and Buzzards Bay is excluded."