Do the Right
Photograph below provided by LAURIE
Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station
As the Dutch-registered ship Levantgracht makes her way to port
in Saint John, an operator with Fundy Traffic, an arm of the Canadian Coast
Guard, is on the radio.
Fundy Traffic: "For your
information, you are now approaching a right whale and conservation area. Right
whales are an endangered species and are protected under the Canadian Fisheries
Act. It is requested you maintain a close lookout and that to the extent that
is possible, take action to avoid a collision with these whales, if sighted.
Please report any whale sightings to Fundy Traffic. Include the number of
whales and position of sighting. Over."
vant to say I vill do so. Ve keep a sharp lookout for de vhales. In case ve
encounter them, ve'll make vay for them and ve vill report to you the number
and the direction vhere they are going. Over."
Traffic: "Thank you."
Levantgracht: "Your very velcome.
I think it is a very good cause."
All ships greater than
20 metres in length are required to report to Fundy Traffic entering and
leaving the Bay of Fundy. During the six months the right whales are also in
the bay, the ships are warned to be on the lookout for whales in the area.
In 1996 to 1997, Fundy Traffic monitored more than 2,800 ship
transits through the bay, including Very Large Crude Carriers that are more
than 1,100 feet long and weight more than 400,000 tonnes. Even at 50 tonnes, a
right whale wouldn't stand a chance.
Often, those ships
will report whale sightings to Fundy Traffic. The Wellington Kent reported
seeing 12 whales one day in late August. A coast Guard ship saw four on another
day. Scientists aboard the research vessel Neried reported seeing about 100
whales on back-to-back days in late August.
are other times those ships don't see anything.
course, this doesn't work very well at night," says Moira Brown, a senior
scientist who heads East Coast Ecosystems and is one of the Canadian members of
the research team.
"It doesn't work very well in the
five days of fog we've just had.
To be perfectly honest,
what we really need to do is move the lanes," she says. "The lanes need to be
shifted to the east."
The right whale sanctuary in the
Bay of Fundy was designated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 1993
and measures 15-by-12 nautical miles, covering the area about midway between
Grand Manan and the Digby Neck area of Nova Scotia. During the last six months
of the calender year, as many as 200 of the world's 300 right whales can be
Running through the eastern half of that
sanctuary are the international shipping lanes - two half-miles wide inbound
and outbound lanes separates by a three-mile wide median (see map). Of most
concern to scientists is the outbound lane - the one closest to Grand Manan -
which pierces the heart of the conservation zone and where scientists have
documented a heavy concentration of whale sightings, especially along the
outbound lane's western boundary.
The proposal they're
researching would see the bend in the lanes moved to a point nearer the eastern
edge of the conservation zone to minimize the overlap between the shipping
lanes and the whales' playground.
"We cannot move the
whales," says Brown. "The whales are there. These animals are too big to move.
You can't move their food supply. This is a natural occurrence.
"If we are going to do something to reduce the potential for
human-related mortality from ship collisions, we've got to move the shipping
lanes to reduce the overlap."Shipping lanes
are designated to improve safety of navigation and to reduce the risk of marine
pollution. Never before has the International Maritime Organization (IMO)
changed shipping lanes due to whales.
"This is a very
unusual situation," says David Jenkins of Transport Canada, who heads the
Canadian delegation to the IMO's subcommittee on the safety, of navigation. "I
don't recall routing systems being adjusted or put in place for these
particular reasons, although they may be quite valid reasons. That is something
we would have to look at when the proposal is submitted.
"Just off the top of my head, there would be a lot of
questions to be asked" says Jenkins. Whales, like any other non-human animal,
don't respect lanes or anything like that. What would keep them out of a lane
if we moved it, for instance?"
The right whale
scientists know there will be questions, and they intend to have the answers
before they submit their proposal to the IMO, Probably early in 1998 for
consideration at IMO's July 1998 meeting. They are doing aerial and surface
surveys for whales, keeping an eye out for whales outside the conservation-area
as well. They are also examining fishing activity in the area to which they
would like the lanes moved.
"We want to get all our
ducks in a row," says Amy Knowlton, an associate scientist on the project who
just completed her master's .thesis on the regulation of shipping to protect
right whales. "To the north and east of the shipping lanes we've seen very
little fishing activity and we have not sighted any right whales," says Brown.
"That's mostly what we're trying to do last year and this year, get that area
thoroughly covered during the peak season so that we can make sure that what
we're going to do is actually going to accomplish reducing the two things in
the same place."
Another question to be asked is the
economic impact moving the lanes would have on shipping. "If a ship has spent
weeks coming from the Middle East, I don't see what difference another 20 or 30
minutes would make," says Brown. "But I studied whales, I didn't study
shipping. It might make a difference."
The concern of
the IMO would more likely be what effect moving the lanes would have on
shipping safety. "To be honest with you, I don't know how receptive IMO would
be to this particular request," says Jenkins. "I suspect that if there was no
negative impact on safety of shipping or on the protection of the marine
environment in general, I don't suppose there would be much objection at IMO."
However, the London-based United Nations agency also
take ecological concerns into account when designating shipping lanes, says
Jenkins. In Florida Keys, for instance, shipping lanes are kept away from coral
reefs in the area. "Where you have the most endangered large whale in the world
is a pretty environmentally sensitive area," says Brown.