This article was taken from the Saturday addition of the Telegraph Journal, Feb.14/98

Shippers Help Save Whales
(Industry willing to alter shipping lanes to avoid collisions with endangered whales.)

By Alan White

    FREDERICTON - In an unprecedented move, the shipping industry is prepared to shift internationally designated traffic lanes through the Bay of Fundy in order to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.
    Since 1992, three rare right whales have died after being struck by ships in the Bay of Fundy. The shipping lanes now run through the heart of a right whale conservation zone from June to December each year. Scientists and environmentalists have long argued that the shipping lanes should be moved away from waters frequented by the whales.
    Now, the Bay of Fundy's largest shipping firm says it sees no problem with a change in shipping routes as long as ship safety wouldn't be threatened. Patrick Gates, the manager of the tanker division for Kent Lines International Ltd. and the shipping industry adviser on a recently established right whale recovery team, said he can't think of any major objection to moving the shipping lanes closer to the Nova Scotia shore to minimize the overlap between the lanes and whales' summer home.
    Moving the lanes wouldn't mean any significant additional expense to the shipping industry, Mr. Gates said. The main concern would be that the water is deep enough to accommodate vessels weighing up to 400,000 tonnes and that there be enough room at sea for ships to manoeuvre safely without risking collision.
    "Even if it was to move us a couple or three miles to the east, I don't think that would be a huge significant problem," Mr. Gates said. "If that's what it takes and that's what protects the species, then perhaps that's the way we should go," he said. "I don't see a huge problem for a few more miles, but it depends (on safety)."
    International shipping lanes have never before been moved in order to protect whales. Shipping lanes throughout the world are designated by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency based in London, England. This organization will decide whether to alter the contentious Bay of Fundy route.
    Right whale research scientist Moira Brown of East Coast Ecosystems in Nova Scotia and the Centre for Coastal Studies in Cape Cod, Mass., welcomes the shipping industry's openness to the idea of shifting the shipping lanes.
    "To hear it from an agent like Kent Lines is very encouraging," Ms. Brown said. "It's getting to the heart of the matter. This is the agency that is in contact with many, many different ships.
    "The bottom line is none of the marine users out there have any desire to hurt these animals. They just want to know what to do."
    Ship strikes are the leading human cause of right whale deaths. The three kills in the Bay of Fundy since 1992, two of which were females who were early in their reproductive years, represent one percent of the world's North Atlantic right whales population. This death rate in human terms would be the equivalent of 7,600 New Brunswickers being killed along one stretch of highway over a 5 year period.
    Since 1977, scientists have been able to determine a cause of death for 18 of the 41 right whales that are known to have died. Of those 18 deaths, 16 were due to collisions with ships.
    Moving the shipping lanes is one area being examined by the right whale recovery team, which was established last fall by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the World Wildlife Fund and includes Ms. Brown as a member, as well as scientists from the New England Aquarium.
    Irving-owned Kent Lines had about 400 of its ships move through the bay last year and acted as the shipping agent for about 600 others. All tolled, it represents as much as 75% of the shipping traffic in the bay.
    Ms. Brown and fellow scientists have independently been working on research and a proposal to move the shipping lanes. Their intention was to take such a proposal to the international organization at its 1998 annual meeting in July, but now they say the time line is too tight. That means it would be 1999 before any such proposal could be presented, with implementation not until 2000 at the earliest.
    Scientists are now analyzing data on whale sightings outside the established conservation area and on whether the whales congregate in different times in an effort to determine how to best keep whales and ships apart.
    "We don't want to do the wrong thing" Ms. Brown said. "It sounds like a really neat thing to do - "let's just move the lanes" - but we want to make sure we don't move them to the wrong spot."
    It may be as simple as moving the lanes toward Nova Scotia.
    "In some ways our ideas are broadening now," Ms. Brown said. "Is there a seasonal component to where right whales are found in the Bay of Fundy?"
    "Maybe in one part of the season when the whales are set up on the western side of the bay, you have the ships move to the east. And if the whales move to the east, you have an option to move the ships to the west.
    :Maybe if the animals are shifting across the bay at different times of the year, we need to have options for the lanes - not just a blanket "don't go here, go there.""
    One thing that would enable such a rotating system of lanes to work is that the Bay of Fundy is unique in that all ships moving through it are in contact with the Coast Guard's Fundy Traffic centre, she said.
    Whether that idea would create confusion on the bay and increase danger is something Transport Canada would have to consider as a safety issue, said Ms. Brown
    "The last thing you want is a collision between two ships," she added.