PODCASTEnvironmentally Speaking EP 54: The Endangered White Whale

December 23, 20220

Transcript: The Endangered White Whale

CLARICE:  Hello, everybody.  Welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.MARISA:  Hi, everyone.  I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney in Rhode Island.

CLARICE:  And I’m Clarice.  I’m coming in with our questions, topics, and comments for discussion.  And this week, Marisa, you have an interesting topic.

MARISA:  Well, let’s back up for a second there.  In typical Marisa fashion, we had a completely different topic scheduled for today and I went and ruined it.  So we are now –

CLARICE:  Well, I was just not going to – I was going to not tell the listeners and gaslight y’all a little bit.

MARISA:  Listen, I totally appreciate you not throwing me under the bus, but I need to take responsibility for my own actions.  There was a scheduling snafu for me and so it resulted in – we had a third party that was coming on to speak with us today and I ruined it.  I mean, I racked the schedule and now it’s just you and me.  But I’m okay with it only because there was an issue that came up this week in the practice that is, I think, very interesting to Rhode Islanders and non-environmentally friendly people all the same because the topic itself is cuddly.

As some folks might know, we’ve got something called the Endangered Species Act in this country that is regulated by the federal government but has implications for the states because the phrase is that fish don’t recognize territorial boundaries.  Under the Endangered Species Act if a species is threatened or endangered, you know, they’re not staying just in Rhode Island waters.  They’re moving all over the place, so the federal government oversees that particular statute.  The species that I’m referring to is the endangered right whale, r-i-g-h-t, right.  Do you know anything about the right whale?

CLARICE:  Well, it’s not wrong.

MARISA:  [inaudible] for that one.

CLARICE:  Dad jokes over here.

MARISA:  Oh, yeah.

CLARICE:  No.  I know nothing about the right whale.  Tell me about it.  Is it cute and  adorable?

MARISA:  I mean, I think so.  It’s endangered which means that the threat of it going extinct is higher than if it were just a threatened species.  There’s certain nomenclature under the Endangered Species Act that explains at what level a particular species is being considered by the federal government and they do that through surveying, counting the number of the particular animal in a particular area and tracking.  So in this case the right whale is a threatened – excuse me – endangered right whale is the nomenclature for it and that means it’s a serious issue to the extent that in Rhode Island the federal government is proposing that ferries and charter boats will have to move a lot slower in Rhode Island during the off-season.

[0:03:39] CLARICE:  So, you know, instantly thinking of the commuters.

MARISA:  The commuters and the trips to Block Island.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  But it’s not about getting there.  It’s about the journey, right?  Isn’t that like part of the whole trip to Block Island and you’re taking the day trip is to enjoy the boat ride?

MARISA:  Well, there’s a bar on the ferry.


MARISA:  So I would say yes, but I think some people would probably find this inconvenient.  If you’re doing business on the island or coming from the island to do business on the mainland, you have to factor in additional time.  But it’s not the inconvenience that I find really interesting.  It’s more that you’ve got an endangered species that is at such a risk that we’re actually going to see a local impact.  It’s just not like a pie in the sky concept.  Like there are right whales in Rhode Island waters and the federal government thinks that by slowing local vessel traffic you could potentially save or try to save the species.

CLARICE:  And specifically are we thinking that this lower ferry speed and kind of reducing that speed limit for this route – is it so captains can hopefully course correct around the whale, or they’ve got more time to look out for them?

MARISA:  Or is it that the right whale with the slower vessel speed can course correct itself.

CLARICE:  Oh, okay.

MARISA:  Give it more time to move away.

CLARICE:  That’s another good point.

MARISA:  So specifically it’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as NOAA.  They are proposing to restrict existing nautical speed limits to ten knots per hour for all vessels greater than 35 feet in length.  If the new rule is approved – because right now it’s just proposed.  If the rule is approved, it would go into effect between November 1st and May 30th every year and would apply to all vessels sailing along the Atlantic  Seaboard from Massachusetts to North Carolina.  This includes all of Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound, so it’s not – you know, Rhode Island is just a piece of the bigger proposed rule.

[0:06:14] CLARICE:  Uh-huh.  And like you said, it is in the off-season.  I would be interested to see after – if this new rule gets approved and gets put into action, I’d be interested to see how the right whales’ numbers are affected next season to see if there is any – hopefully at least not a decline.

MARISA:  Well, yeah.  And it’s what we were just talking about, about why you’d want vessels to slow down is because of vessel strikes.  I mean, we know that for sure that it’s like a deer on the highway getting hit by a car, but imagine the deer are almost an extinct species.  Yeah.

CLARICE:  And several tons, so.

MARISA:  And several tons, yes.  Yes.

CLARICE:  One, you don’t want to hit it for your own sake and, two, you don’t want to be the person to hit the last deer on earth.

MARISA:  True.  I remember hearing – I think it was last year.  Yeah.  It was last year that a right whale had washed up on shore somewhere.


MARISA:  And it was a big deal.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  It was in Little Compton on South Shore.

MARISA:  Was it?

CLARICE:  Yeah.  We did an episode on it —

MARISA:  Oh, that’s right.  It’s all coming back to me.

CLARICE:  — where I accidentally wished the whale well and it was beached.  That lives in my head rent free, guys.

MARISA:  Well, so four right whales have died since 2017 as a result of vessel collisions and they’re almost extinct.  Do we think it’s odd that the species is almost extinct and now the federal government is asking or telling vessels to slow down?  And do we think these vessels are going to slow down?

CLARICE:  If I wasn’t so invested in this podcast and I wasn’t a listener, I would say, yeah, that’s odd.  But knowing that we oftentimes have bad news to share and the message is very often a little too late, no.  No.  I’m not shocked at all.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  I hope ferries slow down, but private boats I’m not sure.

MARISA:  Yeah.  And how do you enforce this?

CLARICE:  I’m wondering if there’s going to be specifically for – thinking of like the larger commercial ferries in that sense I wonder if that’s something that’s going to be monitored a lot closer since there is a strict schedule for that.  But, I mean, if you’ve got just somebody’s random boat, I don’t know how you’re going to be able to test that or ensure that everybody’s following the rules.

[0:09:07] MARISA:  Well, yeah.  And the vessel has to be at least 35 feet in length, so that certainly covers some recreational boating and definitely charters.  Charter boats are used for recreational fishing, so if you’ve got a charter that only lasts for, let’s say, four or five hours – I don’t know.  I’m making that up – and it has a plan to go fish in a certain area they now have to factor in a slower –

CLARICE:  Arrival, yeah.

MARISA:  — travel speed to get their fishers to the location and back within that chunk of time, so it’s less time fishing.

CLARICE:  I’d like to see, if this rule gets adopted, kind of looking into what are the regulations attached to it.  What’s the insurance in there.  Is there going to be a fine.  Is there going to be monitoring.  Is this rule going to be silent about those two things.

MARISA:  I’m always curious about enforcement.


MARISA:  It’s one to put a law into effect and make certain things illegal and then how do you go about –

CLARICE:  How do you check.

MARISA:  — enforcing that.  Yeah.  How do you check.  Is there a guy out there on a Coast Guard vessel with a speed gun.

CLARICE:  I don’t know.

MARISA:  How does that work?

CLARICE:  I don’t know.

MARISA:  Any Coast Guard people out there that could weigh in on this, that would be great.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  Let us know.  Do you sit at the bow with just like a speed radar and check?  That would be a fun day, though.

MARISA:  And then do you chase the vessel down and issue it a speeding ticket?

CLARICE:  Oh, please write in.  If anybody works in the Coast Guard, please write in.  I need to know.

MARISA:  Or DEM.  I mean, they’re local enforcement officers, as well.

CLARICE:  That’s true.

MARISA:  I don’t know how that works.  As of 2021 there are only 350 right whales left in the entire world.  It’s not a lot.

CLARICE:  That’s not a lot.  Oh, that’s sad.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  And for folk whose have not seen a picture of a white – a right whale, I just Googled one.

MARISA:  A white whale?

CLARICE:  A white whale.   Think very much – it’s exactly what you think of when you think of a big gray whale.  It’s got that big kind of swooped mouth, so it almost comes down into a U.  It’s got those bristles in the front that you all think of.  If anybody has seen Finding Nemo, that whale with the bristly teeth, it’s that.  They do look very sweet so it’s a shame.  We won’t be looking at them much longer.

MARISA:  Well, maybe we will.  Maybe we will.  Maybe we can step in and be good stewards of this natural resource.  Besides boating collision, a lot of the other cause of death for right whales is entanglement in old fishing line or commercial fishing infrastructure that is abandoned.

[0:12:07] CLARICE:  Yeah.

MARISA:  And that’s a real problem, too.  I mean, you’ve got not just whales but all kinds of sea life that gets entangled in wire and rope and whatever is abandoned out there.


MARISA:  So how do you go about addressing that issue.

CLARICE:  That’s going to take a lot of cleanup, a lot of cleanup.  Well, so that was a bummer.  Thank you.  Hey, somebody out there is going to request something happy.  If you do have any happy topics, I’m now only accepting happy topics.

MARISA:  I won’t have anything to say.

CLARICE:  Please reach out to us at Help@DesautelESQ.  You can hit us up on our social media Desautel ESQ or Desautel Browning Law on Instagram.  We have a Twitter.  We’re on YouTube.

MARISA:  We are on YouTube.

CLARICE:  We are.

MARISA:  You mentioned that one of our episodes popped up on your YouTube feed the other day.

CLARICE:  It did.  It did.  Yeah.  My husband and I were sitting down.  We wanted to watch a video and next thing you know both of our faces, you and I, were just across our TV screen and it was so jarring.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  I was like, I’m not supposed to be on this medium, but we are.

MARISA:  So you can check us out there on YouTube.


MARISA:  Is that part of the – what is that – algorithm, logarithm that people talk about?

CLARICE:  I guess.  But I didn’t expect myself to pop up in my own algorithm.  That feels very narcissistic.

MARISA:  Does your TV listen to you?  Do you have one of those smart TVs?

CLARICE:  No.  Maybe my phone does, though.

MARISA:  Oh, yeah.

CLARICE:  My phone definitely does.

MARISA:  Absolutely.

CLARICE:  So my phone and my TV are talking.  Well, on that note, guys, hopefully your phone and TV are telling you to go check us out.  Have a good one.

MARISA:  Thanks, Clarice.

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