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Mac Trueman/Telegraph-Journal A Canadian scientist says moving ships farther away from Grand Manan has not increased the hazard to other whale species such as the finback, and humpbacks, like this one photographed in the Bay of Fundy in August.

Bay of Fundy shipping lane changes
prove more effective than expected

Two thirds of world's 300-350 remaining right whales feed in bay

BY MAC TRUEMAN
Telegraph-Journal
September 27/04

    It looks like last year's change in Bay of Fundy shipping lanes could provide even more help to the highly endangered right whale than scientists had hoped for.
   Biologists at the Centre for Coastal Studies, in Provincetown, Mass., were hoping the move would cut whale collisions here by 80 per cent. Instead, they now think the reduction is closer to 95 per cent.
   "We're literally trying to save right whales one at a time," said Moira Brown, whale biologist and senior scientist with the New England Aquarium, in Boston.
   "I know that sounds clichéd, but when you only have 300 animals in the world, you are working on an individual basis."
   The population lies somewhere between 300 and 350 whales, and up to two-thirds of them feed in the Bay of Fundy in late summer, she said.
   Transport Canada and the International Maritime Organization took the shipping routes going to and from the Port of Saint John and moved them six kilometres to the east last summer, in an effort to get them away from the Grand Manan feeding ground where right whales congregate in summer.
   This Canadian scientist, who also heads the right whale project at the Centre for Coastal Studies, says moving ships farther away from Grand Manan has not increased the hazard to other whale species like the finback and humpback. The new routes still don't go near the feeding areas of these other species, she said.
    A cruise ship arrived in Saint John on Sunday with a dead finback whale lying across the underwater bulbous part of the vessel's bow. Not even the crew of Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas had noticed the mishap until the ship came into port.
   Ms. Brown said the location where this happened could be determined by checking the engine-room log for the point at which fuel consumption increased, if the dead whale created extra drag.
   Because no known right whales have been struck by ships in the Bay of Fundy since the routes were changed, the scientists calculated their new probability estimate by counting sightings of right whales in the area.
   Only 1.5 per cent of Bay of Fundy right whale sightings were made along the new route last summer, and this was fewer than the scientists were predicting from their 14 years of whalesighting data. The old lanes contained 30 per cent of sightings. Although these results are preliminary, the scientists will soon be ready to add this year's sighting counts to their statistics.
   Scientists believe the population could slowly start to improve if collisions could be reduced by two a year. But bending the Bay of Fundy shipping lanes is just the start of work needed to preserve this slow-moving, docile, 17-metre giant from obliteration, she says.
   The animal's migration stretches all the way from the Bay of Fundy to calving grounds off Florida. And Ms. Brown says there is a need to cut down the collision hazard at every major port from Florida to Portland, Me.
   To this end, the first in a long series of meetings between scientists, government and the shipping industry in the U.S. is set to take place this week in Boston, she said.
   Ms. Brown spoke Monday while getting ready to give an address this week to a conference of the Bay of Fundy Ecosystem Partnership, in Digby, N.S.

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