This article was taken from the
Saturday addition of the Telegraph Journal, Feb.14/98
(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.
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'
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
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.
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
"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.
"The last thing you want is a collision between
two ships," she added.