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Whales will get right of way in Fundy
ENVIRONMENT: Transport Canada accepts proposal to alter shipping lanes in bay

April 25/02 Chris Morris
Canadian Press

    The endangered right whale is being given the right of way in the Bay of Fundy.
   Transport Canada said Wednesday it has accepted a proposal to alter shipping lanes in the bay between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. togive the whales a safe, ship-free zone.
   Paul Doucet, a Transport Canada spokesman, said fishermen and other interest groups have yet to be consulted, but it's hoped the new lanes will be in effect by the summer of 2003.
   "We believe it's a proposal which will create an effective and safe shipping lane while at the same time showing much greater sensitivity to the whales," Mr. Doucet said.
   The object of the change, recommended by a group cochaired by Transport Canada, is to minimize the risk of whale and ship collisions in the Bay of Fundy near New Brunswick's Grand Manan Island.
   Ship strikes are one of the most common killers of right .whales, who lumber along slowly and can't quickly get out of the way of a passing ship.
   It's estimated there are only about 350 of the baleen behemoths left, making it the most endangered large whale species on Earth.
   Laurie Murison, managing director of the Whale and Seabird Research Station at Grand Manan, said scientists have plotted and analyzed the movements ''of the whales for the past 12 years.
   She said the whales tend to congregate within a fairly compact, oval-shaped area near Grand Marian, right in the middle : of an outbound shipping lane.
   "If you eliminate ships from going through that oval, you reduce the potential for collision by 80 per cent," she said.
   The North Atlantic right whale was hunted to the brink of extinction for its oil and baleen, a flexible form of whalebone. It was called the "right" whale because it was slow-moving, rich in blubber and easy to catch.
   Ms. Murison said the whales enjoy lolling in groups on the surface.
   She said she's seen as many as 45 whales socializing on the surface of the bay and if a freighter had plowed into them, the loss would have decimated the fragile population.
   "They're intent on what they're doing and they don't necessarily pay attention to what is happening around them," Ms. Murison said.
   As well, she said there's some question as to whether the whales can hear approaching ships.
   Mr. Doucet said that under the proposal, the Bay of Fundy lanes will be moved about three nautical miles to the east, towards the Nova Scotia coast and away from Grand Manan.
   "I'm very pleased," said Ms. Murison, a member of the advisory group that recommended the lane change. "I'm also pleased to see everyone working together so well.
   "It's -really nice to see people from very different walks of life get together and come up with a solution very quickly."
   The advisory group, appointed a year ago, included representatives from government, environmental groups, fishermen and the shipping industry.
   Right whale calves and their mothers have started trekking toward Canadian waters after ending their birthing season off Florida and Georgia. They spend their summers feeding in the plankton-rich waters of the Bay of Fundy.
   Between 10 and 12 whales are born most years in their traditional , breed grounds off the southeastern U.S. coast. The challenge now for the baby whales is to survive in an area that sees massive bulk carriers and transport vessels pass through it constantly.
   Ms. Murison said she knows of three right whales that have been killed by ship strikes in the Bay of Fundy.
   "One washed up on Grand Manan in 1992. It had a really large bruise on one side. Then two ended up on the Nova Scotia coast, one had a broken jaw and the other had a broken vertebrae."
   "The only thing that could do that is collision with something very large and in the Bay of Fundy, that's a vessel."

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