decision to give whales right-of-way
BY MAC TRUEMAN
A whale biologist
in Massachusetts is praising Canada for "taking the lead" to preserve the
world's dwindling number of North Atlantic right whales.
Dr. Moira Brown, a right whale specialist with the Centre
for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., said she was elated at news last
week that the International Maritime Organization has approved Ottawa's plan to
push the Bay of Fundy shipping lane a few kilometres closer to Nova Scotia.
The move, which will take effect July 1 just before
Fundy's right whale stock is due to arrive for the summer, will reduce by 80
per cent the number of these animals struck by ships in the Bay of Fundy, she
But she warned that saving the right whale from
extinction will ultimately depend on protecting it from shipping in all of the
animal's four other known grazing areas along the eastern seaboard of North
America between New Brunswick and Florida.
as far along as Canada is yet. Canada is taking the lead," she said.
"It's the right thing to do;" said John Logan, manager of
Irving Oil's chartered oil tanker fleet, which represents the biggest segment
of largevessel traffic in the Bay of Fundy.
ago when the right whale's crisis hit the news, the Irving company went to the
New England Aquarium in Boston, to join it in working to reduce the whale
Irving is the biggest single user of the Port
of Saint John, and "half the right whales in existence are out there in the
summer," Mr. Logan said.
The oil company "donated $80,000
US or so to them in the last few years, to do the research and find out where
the whales are," Mr. Logan said.
It has been under the
New England Aquarium flag that Ms. Brown has been going every summer to Lubec,
Me., to study the right whale in its summer feeding grounds. Mr. Logan has gone
out with her team in the research boat.
impressed Ms. Brown the most with the Fundy shipping change is that scientists,
conservationists, the shipping industry, fishermen and government all got
together to design the new route, with nobody forcing them to do
"I'm just so encouraged because legislation obliging
Canada to do so," she said.
Shipping lanes are the
internationally designated highways for commercial vessels. The Bay of Fundy
change will add four kilometres to the route to Saint John, and 12 miles to
pathways leading to Eastport, Me., and Bayside, near St. Andrews. But it will,
take ships around a 500-squarekilometre patch of sea lying between Grand Manan
and Digby where 80 per cent of visiting right whales feed in the summer, she
"They may get here a little later than they did
before," Mr. Logan said of the Irving tankers, "and they may miss the odd tide,
but we look at this as a good thing to do for. the whales, and the right thing
Ships put the right whale uniquely at risk
because the slow and lumbering giant grazes on plankton "like a cow in the
field," Ms. Brown said.
The best plankton areas are deep
basins closest to shore, which usually are also the lanes that ships seek out,
because these are the safest places to navigate. That's why all five grazing
areas are in the middle of traffic zones for ships, and dead whales are
regularly found there.
The other four areas include the
Roseway Basin, 70 kilometres south of the southern tip of Nova Scotia. Two of
the regions are off the coast of Massachusetts. The calving area lies near
"That's another area that has
incredible shipping traffic, both commercial and military, and dredging
activities to keep the deep river channels open," Ms. Brown said.
Some of the U.S. areas don't have enough navigable space
to move shipping lanes away from the whales. Scientists are looking at other
solutions, such as forcing ships to slow down.
shipping and port officials "are concerned that restrictions would be so
onerous as to affect the economic viability of the port. Shippers might go
elsewhere to the nearby Port of New York and the Port of Portland," Ms. Brown
If the new Bay of Fundy pathway is any significant
help in saving the right whale, it will take several years for the effect to
show up in the Coastal Centre's annual surveys, she said. But in the meantime,
"by not seeing dead whales on the beach, by not seeing floating whales and by
not seeing whales with injuries from interactions with ships - that's how we'll
know it's working."