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Scientists use blimp to monitor whales

BY JENNIFER WATSON
Telegraph-Journal
August 22/03

    A nine-metre-long, remotecontrolled blimp equipped with a video camera is flying over the Bay of Fundy, taping the behaviour of whales as part of a study being done by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
   Researchers from the St. Andrews Biological Station have been on the water since Aug. 11 recording whales' responses to nearby boats with the remote-controlled camera. They control the blimp and camera from a nearby boat.
   Biologists Lei Harris said the study is looking at the stress that boats in the bay may cause whales.
   "What we're trying to determine is if the presence of other vessels, and that includes whale watchers, research vessels, fishing boats or other recreational boaters, affects the behaviour of the whales," she said.
   Ms. Harris said scientists want to see if a group of socializing whales breaks up when vessels approach and if whales stop feeding to get away from boats.
   She said the footage collected by researchers should show whether or not whales are stressed by observing whether the animals surface for air more frequently when boats are close by. Ms. Harris said she hopes if the study shows whales are being negatively affected by boats in the bay, that there will be legislation enacted regulating how close boats can get to the right whales.
   Currently there are only guidelines in place that recommend that boats stay 500 metres away from right whales.
   There have been significant efforts to protect right whales in recent years, with shipping lanes in the bay moved and the creation of quick-response disentanglement teams.
   Ms. Harris said the presence of humans on the water affects the fragile right whale population. The species is endangered and there is only about 350 left in the world.
   Ms. Harris said it is important that people know about the right whales' situation.
   "We just want to educate people about how to behave around the whales so that both humans and whales can co-exist on the water. "
   With files from Canadian Press

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