standby to help Fundy whales
BY DERWIN GOWAN
About two or three
dozen people stand by, ready to rescue of whales tangled in fishing gear in the
Bay of Fundy.
This crew, many of them volunteers,
includes a group on Campobello Island led by Mackie Green, a commercial
fishermen and whalewatching tour operator.
There is also
the staff at the New England Aquarium summer field station at Lubec, Me., and
the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station at North Head - a registered
charity. Another group, made up of federal civil servants, works from the
Canadian Coast Guard Station at Westport, N.S.
call the Centre for Coastal Studies at Provincetown, Mass., for backup or
The network kicked into gear on Sunday
afternoon when people out in pleasure boats spotted a humpbacked whale east of
Grand Mana n with some fisherman's gillnetting for groundfish wrapped around
Jerry Conway, marine mammals adviser for the
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Maritimes Region based in Dartmouth, N.S.,
got word of the trouble.
Heather Koopman and Andrew
Westgate at the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station took their boat
out and stood by, while Mr. Green arrived from Campobello with a rigid hull
inflatable boat supplied by DFO for rescuing whales.
operation went smoothly, and the whale swam away free of fishing gear after
about three hours.
But, Mr. Conway said in a telephone
interview from Dartmouth, the group from Westport, N.S., did even better on
Sept. 3 when it released a whale wrapped in gillnetting, rope and other gear in
less than an hour.
Both of these operations came to
happier conclusions than the attempt a few years ago to rescue Churchill, an
entangled Atlantic right whale that went from the Gulf of Maine, around Sable
Island, up the Scotian Shelf, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, back into the open
Atlantic - before dying off Long Island, N.Y., still entangled.
Mr. Conway said Churchill travelled 8,000 kilometres in
three months, with well-wishers from two countries following him with satellite
tracking devices - to no avail. He estimates this operation cost $200,000 -
most of it spent by American authorities.
The death of an
Atlantic right whale strikes particularly hard, since only about 350 of these
animals remain. They once numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
The old whalers called them "right whales" because they
floated after they were harpooned, and yielded large quantities of oil and
"Virtually, the right whale lit the streets of
Europe," Mr. Conway said, referring to the use of whale oil in the days before
the modern petroleum industry.
Mr. Conway said there were
three whales rescued in the Bay of Fundy this year, not counting two occasions
when fog and poor weather kept the rescuers ashore. He said there were other
rescues in American waters.
The group in Lubec has
training from the Centre for Coastal Studies. Fisheries and Oceans licenses the
groups at Campobello, Grand Manan and Westport, N.S., to rescue whales, but
they also have training from the Centre for Coastal Studies.
Besides the boat and an allowance of $1,000 for fuel and
related expenses, Fisheries and Oceans provides Mr. Mackie with $25,000 worth
of equipment - knives, ropes, poles, and radio satellite transmitters to attach
when weather, nightfall or the whale's temper forces the rescuers to back off.
Mr. Conway said DFO provides "first responder kits" worth
about $7,000 apiece at Grand Manan and Westport, N.S.
Besides rescuing large whales, the Grand Manan Whale and
Seabird Research Station runs a separate program for safely removing harbour
porpoises from herring weirs.
Laurie Murison, managing
director at the station, says they have rescued 11 porpoises so far this year,
compared to 244 last year.