Shipping industry attempts to steer clear of whales

J. D. Irving Limited
taken from the Times Globe

    There are approximately 300 right whales left in the world, and two thirds of them spend the summer months in the Bay of Fundy. For the shipping industry, this is challenging but exciting news. Right whales can be up to 50 feet long, and are quite visible, but don't instinctively move out of the way of approaching ships. Moving ships in and out of the Bay of Fundy along shipping lanes requires special attention when safely passing through right whale habitat as vessels must stay far enough away from shore to avoid any risk of ship accident.
   Because right whales are an endangered species, scientists are carefully studying their movement and monitoring population growth. Twenty years ago when shipping lanes were first created in the Bay of Fundy, there were almost no reported right whale sightings. Today, the situation is very different. Right whales have begun migrating in significant numbers to the Bay of Fundy between May and November. Since the aggregation of right whales in local waters has become denser over the years, scientists are looking for ways to protect their habitat. Part of this undertaking involves - working with the shipping industry to integrate right whale conservation with daily operations.
    "More whales are staying longer and arriving earlier in the Bay of Fundy," says Dr. Moira Brown, a scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute. "We are very concerned about human caused mortality of these animals." Right whales do not seem to fear ships. They travel on or just beneath surface waters putting them in the path of passing vessels. Not enough is known on the right whales to understand how they perceive ships. Researchers need to know at what frequency whales detect sound. This will tell them whether or not whales hear ships. if they do hear ships, scientists want to- know if whales understand what to do when they hear one approaching. Research in this area is ongoing.
   Active involvement in protecting right whales began in 1992, when Delilah, a young mother, was discovered with an 18-foot bruise along her body. She died; leaving behind an eight-month-old calf named Calvin. The whale's death was widely covered by the media, and brought partners together to discuss ways of preventing future human-caused deaths. Since then, scientific, industry and volunteer organizations have rallied together to raise awareness on protecting the endangered species.
    Kent Lines and Irving Oil are both active participants in right whale conservation. For the past four years, Irving Oil has provided funding to the New England Aquarium for right whale research. Ongoing study is critical to gathering much-needed information on the animals. All partners assist in bringing the best knowledge forward. "By working together, we can find answers to our questions and more importantly learn how to best protect the right whale," says John Logan who manages ships for Irving Oil.
    "We have formed a relationship between mariners and scientists that is both cooperative and understanding of each others concerns."
   All parties agree more research is needed before finding a solution. Until then, ongoing education and awareness will help avoid injury to the animals. Fundy Traffic, a marine traffic regulating centre, sends out a radio broadcast to all ships entering the Bay of Fundy advising them of the region's right whale conservation area. This area is also clearly noted in the annual Notice to Mariners, a mandatory publication found on board all ships. Vessels are asked to reduce speed and be on the look out for right whales as they enter this zone. Kent Lines takes the responsibility seriously, posting a lookout to watch for right whales while in the area. Lookouts are trained through on-board literature and videos that teach crew how to search for whales. Whale sightings are reported to the captain, and the ship does whatever is possible to avoid the whale. Whale observation reports are received by Fundy Traffic.

Scientists' preparing for a whale of a rescue

Times Globe staff writer

   American officials may take some rare and drastic measures in an attempt to save the life of an entangled right whale thought to be heading for the Bay of Fundy.
    David Mattila, director of disentanglement for the Centre for Coastal Studies, said biologists, veterinarians and government officials discussed the options during a conference call on Monday night.
    "Generally, people feet that there is not a high chance of surviving if the rope stays in his head. But they also agreed that to take it out was going to take measures more radical than we would normally apply when we're trying to disentangle whales."
    Mr. Manila said they are now waiting for approval from the National Marine Fisheries Services to employ those radical steps. Mr. Manila said they are now waiting for approval from the National Marine Fisheries Services to employ those radical steps.    
He explained that rescuers might have to use sedatives and a harness to keep the whale, known only by his assigned number of 1102, immobile long enough to remove the rope.   
The rare right whale was spotted off the coast of Cape Cod has a two centimetre plastic line cutting into his rostrum, or upper jaw. While the whale is still feeding and appears to be in good health, its prognosis is not good. Tissue around both sides of its mouth is discoloured and infected.    
Mr. Manila said experts have said they have never seen wounds of this sort heal over the embedded ropes.    
Mr. Manila was part of a team that observed the huge mammal Saturday and attached a telemetry buoy so marine scientists could track it. As of Sunday night, the whale was about 130 kilometres off the coast of Cape Cod, near Georges Bank, travelling north.   
Until government approval is granted, the team will keep track of the whale and ready the crew.   
"We're putting together things that we wouldn't normally use, like a delivery system for sedatives, a harness to be applied around the tale of the whale, things like that."   
Taking such drastic steps illustrates how important each whale is.    
"With only just a little over 300 of them left, each whale does make a difference. We're positive that we do not find every entangled whale and so the ones that we do find, if we can make a difference, it is helping somewhat."