Agreement inked to
ease efforts to free entangled right whales
BY JENNIFER ROBINSON
DARTMOUTH, N.S. -
An agreement to streamline international efforts to rescue endangered right
whales from tangles of deadly fishing gear has been reached between Canada and
the United States.
The three-year deal was signed Friday
by officials from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Center
for Coastal Studies, a non-profit organization based in Provincetown, Mass.
The centre is seen as a world leader in the dangerous and
highly specialized field of freeing the gigantic mammals from gill nets and
lobster-trap gear that can saw deeply into the animal's flesh and cause
infections, which can be fatal if not treated.
department and centre "have worked --operatively but informally for a long
time," said Neil Bellefontaine, regional director-general of DFO in the
Maritimes, at a news conference.
formalizes that relationship and expands the level of co-operation, ultimately
to the benefit of this 'endangered species. "
350 right whales left in the world and about two-thirds of them migrate every
year up the eastern seaboard from their birthing grounds off Florida and
Georgia to summer in the plankton-rich waters of the Bay of Fundy, located
between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The route leads
them through rich fishing grounds and shipping lanes travelled by massive bulk
carriers, which accounts for their high mortality rates from ship strikes and
"This is an international conservation
challenge, therefore it makes sense to be working in close collaboration with
our neighbours to the north," said Peter Borrelli, executive-director of the
The department will now store equipment used in
the high-seas disentanglements in the Maritimes for quick use by experienced
teams from the centre.
The Americans will also be issued
permits to conduct the operations and research in Canadian waters, and may help
train more fisheries personnel in freeing the massive creatures.
Mr. Bellefontaine said he couldn't say how much money the
department will put towards the agreement, but said the funds will come from
Canada's Right Whale Recovery Plan, developed three years ago.
The average cost of disentangling a right whale is "a
tricky question" but runs in the thousands of dollars, said Mr. Borrelli.
He said the expense of freeing perhaps the best known
entangled whale, dubbed Churchill, cost more than $250,000 US two years ago.
Canadian and U. S. scientists tried for months to free
the whale from a tangle of synthetic fishing line in its mouth as it struggled
off Nova Scotia. Churchill was thought to have died.
Though known as slow and lumbering, right whales are the
most difficult whale to disentangle because they can become "quite hostile and
violent" when approached by rubber dinghies carrying rescue teams.
"They are not happy to have us close to them when they're
in pain and suffering," said Charles (Stormy) Mayo, co-founder of the centre
and director of its whale rescue program.
difficult animals with unparalleled power compared to the other whales. They're
hard to slow down, which we have to do in order to cut them free. "
About 50 per cent of the missions fail and no hard
statistics exist to determine how many of the creatures survive infections
caused by tangled gear after being freed, Mr. Borrelli said.