Do the Right
One month ago yesterday, a dead right whale was spotted floating in the
Bay of Fundy.
The 30-tonne, 11-metre carcass was towed
to the Nova Scotia shore and scientists from throughout North America gathered
for the necropsy. The news was what they feared. It was killed when it was
struck by a ship.
Making matters worse was that it was a
young female, one that had yet to reproduce. With only about 300 right whales
in existence, every whale is important, but especially so are the females of
reproductive age, without whom the species will die. Not only did a female die
that day in the Bay of Fundy, but so did the calves - perhaps as many as 10 -
that she would of had during her 30 years of reproductive life.
"As sad as it sounds, there may be a day when the only place
your going to see a North American right whale is in a museum." Deborah Tobin
of East Coast Ecosystems in Freeport, N.S. told The Globe and Mail at
There's already a
right whale in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. A ship strike put her
Five years ago, 12-year-old Delilah was full of
life, bring her first calf to the summer nursery of the right whales in the Bay
of Fundy. A fisherman spotted Delilah with her calf one day, vigorously
splashing her tail. Hours later, her body washed up on shore.
The necropsy found no broken bones or propeller wounds, but
her body cavity was filled with blood and the cause of death was listed as
blunt force trauma. There's only one thing capable of inflicting blunt force
trauma on a 37-tonne whale that's more than 13 metres in length. Another death
attributed to a ship strike.
Now Delilah's skeleton - it
alone weighs a tonne - hangs in the New Brunswick Museum's Hall of the Great
Whales. Along side it is a life size fiberglass model of Delilah. It is one of
the museum's most popular exhibits.
Those weren't the
only right whale deaths in the bay in recent years. A dead right whale washed
up near Beautiful Cove, N.S. in October 1995. It had been struck by a ship. The
carcass of another washed up in Grand Manan, but it was too deteriorated to
determine a cause of death.
At the very least, there
have been three right whales killed by ship strikes in the Bay of Fundy in the
last five years. It may not seem like much, but those three whales represented
one percent of the world's right whale population.
To put that death
rate due to ship strikes in human terms, it's the equivalent of 7,600 New
Brunswickers being killed along one stretch of highway in the last five years.
From 1992 to 1996, 30 people were killed on the Trans-Canada Highway between
Fredericton and Moncton and the province is now going ahead with a $600-million
project to twin that stretch of killer highway.
scientists are working on their own highway project for the right whales. They
hope to move the shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy, which now slice through
the established right whale conservation zone where as many as two-thirds of
the world's right whales gather from June into December each year.
They don't know how their still-developing proposal will be
received by shipping and fishing interests and the International Maritime
Organization, the United Nations agency that sets the shipping lanes.
They do know that they'll be asking for something that's
never been done before.