In this April 10, 2008, file photo, three right whale tails surface in Cape Cod Bay near Provincetown, Massachusetts. Credit: Stephan Savoia / AP

CHILMARK, Massachusette — The federal government has announced a new slow speed zone designed to protect right whales off New England until the middle of January.

The zone is located south of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and it will be in effect until Jan. 15. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said acoustic gear detected the whales on Dec. 31.

Mariners are asked to go 10 knots or less in the area or avoid it completely. The whales are vulnerable to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. They number only about 360 in the world.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week proposed a reduction in lobster trap lines and state-specific markings for fishing gear to try to help the whales. The changes are part of a plan to reduce the number of entanglements in New England waters.

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