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Officials to trace how whale got entangled

BY MAC TRUEMAN
Telegraph-Journal
July 11/03

   Fisheries officials on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are working to trace the source of lobster gear that rescuers untied Wednesday evening from an exhausted right whale in the Bay of Fundy.
   And Campobello Island whalewatch operator Mackie Green - who led volunteers in this week's rescue mission - had a whale of a story to tell his boatload of seven tourists Thursday morning.
   He spoke in an interview off the tip of Grand Manan while trying to work his vessel close enough to give sightseers a view of a distant finback whale, which wasn't co-operating.
   "Whales definitely got a mind of their own, that's for sure," he said.
   But luckily, that wasn't the case Thursday as he and his volunteer Campobello Whale Rescue Team honed their Canadian governmentsupplied Zodiac in on the helpless right whale, at around 5 p. m. Wednesday.
   After it was freed from the gear, the whale was seen swimming in the bay at five kilometres per hour, a normal speed.
   "In a lot of cases, right whales will be very aggressive and try to avoid any sort of interaction," Jerry Conway, the Fisheries and Oceans Department's co-ordinator of marine mammal disentanglements, said from his office at the Bedford Marine Institute, in Halifax.
   "This animal was pretty well beat by the time Mackie approached it. It didn't offer any avoidance."
   The line tangled around the whale's tail was attached to a lobster pot and buoy labeled with a U.S. fishing license, the rescuers found.
   Frank Hogan, a Saint John lawyer, says the discovery adds urgency to his call on the Canadian government to end its experimental summer lobster fishery in the international waters off Machias Seal Island.

RESCUE: Team manages to cut gear away from right whale

   He argues that these Canadian boats add to the danger that U.S. lobster fishermen already pose in the area near the summer feeding grounds of this endangered whale, of which there are barely more than 300 left in the world.
   Greg Peacock, a Fisheries and Oceans communications officer, has dismissed Mr. Hogan's argument, claiming that Machias Seal Island is outside the feeding ground. But Mr. Hogan suggested Thursday that if the whale didn't snag the gear in the Machias Seal Island zone, it had to go through it to get here from where it did get snagged.
   Mr. Conway acknowledged Thursday that there are "occasional sightings of right whales in this particular area." But he added that the gear could have come from anywhere off the coast of Maine or Massachusetts.
   By tracing the U.S. fishing license and therefore the site where the animal got tangled, the two governments can learn more about summer migration routes of right whales.
   "And then we eventually can take some management measures that might mitigate the entanglement (problem)."
   He said the U.S. government will shut down commercial fishing in a zone hundreds of square metres in area if three right whales are sighted in that zone.
   "So, they have some rather stringent rules - far more than we do, in fact."

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