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Whale gets right-of-way in Fundy

BY ALISON AULD
Canadian Press
December 20/02

   One of the marine world's most endangered mammals has won a major protection with the creation of new Canadian shipping lanes that will force vessels to steer clear of known whale habitats.
   The International Maritime Organization approved a unique proposal by Ottawa to amend traffic routes in the Bay of Fundy, where the rare North Atlantic right whale wages a seasonal fight to avoid deadly collisions with massive ships and tankers.
   The new shipping lanes will force ships to divert several kilometres around the zone in a bid to reduce the number of ship strikes, one of the leading causes of death for the slow-moving mammals.
   "This is going to make the Bay of Fundy waters a much safer haven for the right whale," Maurice Landry of Transport Canada in Moncton said Thursday.
   "It will take away some of the vessels from the right whale density."
   Canada received final approval earlier this month after months of discussions with the marine organization, which oversees marine safety.
   The initiative, thought to be the first of its kind in the world, will force tankers to divert around the zone, an area where dozens of the rare whales gather in the summer to feed. It will go into effect July 1, 2003, just as the marine giants are working their way up from the eastern United States to settle into a season of feasting and caring for their young.
   Officials with Transport Canada, which has worked on the proposal with a variety of affected groups for the last two years, hope the changes will reduce the potential for ship strikes by as much as 80 percent.
   The current lanes cut across the whales' summering grounds near New Brunswick's Grand Manan Island, where whales including mothers and their young calves travel from their breeding grounds off Florida to feed on the bay's rich source of plankton.
   The Canadian initiative was endorsed in July by several seafaring countries, including the United States, Panama, the Bahamas, Germany and Sweden.
   Several shipping companies and a group representing international tanker owners have supported the move, which would require a' slight course diversion for vessels travelling into and out of the area.
   Experts who track the right whales say the measure should help the struggling population which, after years of ship collisions, gear entanglements and intense hunting, has been reduced to about 350. That has made it the most endangered large-whale species on Earth.
   "This is an important measure in respect to whales and shipping in reducing the risk of collision," Jerry Conway of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which also worked on the proposal, said in Halifax.
   "This is the first country that has ever initiated change in traffic lanes to protect any sort of marine mammal."
   Fishermen have also backed the revised route even though it will push large tankers into their traditional fishing grounds. "We are losing a bit of ground, but it will be a minimum," Hubert Saulnier, a gill-net fishermen said from his lobster boat in the bay.
   "The fact is you have to do something and this seemed to be the best thing."

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