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Speed zone restriction near Nantucket extended to protect 50 right whales spotted in area

FILE - In this March 28, 2018, file photo, a North Atlantic right whale surfaces in Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. The Maine Department of Marine Resources' proposal in 2020 for protecting endangered right whales from entanglements in lobster gear would maintain the status quo in the inshore waters, where most traps are located, while reducing the number of trap lines farther offshore. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
FILE - In this March 28, 2018, file photo, a North Atlantic right whale surfaces in Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. The Maine Department of Marine Resources' proposal in 2020 for protecting endangered right whales from entanglements in lobster gear would maintain the status quo in the inshore waters, where most traps are located, while reducing the number of trap lines farther offshore. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

A slow speed zone south of Nantucket has been extended through Feb. 15 to protect 50 right whales spotted in the area in late January, officials said.

After the whales were spotted on Jan. 31, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association enacted a voluntary speed restriction for sailors until Feb. 15, according to a tweet from NOAA. All vessels are encouraged to not travel faster than 10 knots. A speed restriction was previously put in place on Jan. 23.

“Vessel collisions are one of the two leading causes of right whale deaths,” said Jennifer Goebel, a NOAA spokeswoman.

North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered species on earth, with only about 400 left. Last year, the Center for Coastal Studiescounted 267 right whales in Cape Cod Bay, about 65 percent of the population, Goebel said. Right whales aggregate around a food sources in the bay.

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Matt Berg can be reached at matthew.berg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.