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Do the Right Thing

    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 the time.
   There's already a right whale in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. A ship strike put her there.
   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.
   Now, 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.

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