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Biologists file in for annual right whale passage

BY MAC TRUEMAN
Telegraph Journal
August 06/05

    Tension is mounting as right whales and right whale biologists file into the Bay of Fundy.
   The tally they hope to do this month will show whether this highly endangered whale species is still declining.
   The good news for this whale whose entire number summers mostly in the Bay of Fundy is that the 28 right-whale calves born last winter represent the second-best birth rate since scientists began counting them.
   But the tough news is that eight whales were found dead from ship collisions or gear entanglements in the last 16 months, leading the scientists to estimate the actual death toll at 47.
   "When you have a population between 300 and 350, somewhere around 47 individuals is a huge chunk," Christina Santiestevan said from the New England Aquarium in Boston.
   "Are there going to be a lot of whales because of the new calves, or are there going to be less whales because there have been so many deaths recently? This is going to be a very interesting field season up there."
   Of special human interest is the whereabouts of the right whale Calvin and the calf she delivered last winter off North Carolina.
   Calvin was an estimated eight months old when her mother was fatally struck by a ship off Grand Manan some 13 years ago, leading experts to believe the young calf would eventually starve. Instead, Calvin kept returning to the Bay of Fundy every summer.
   Ms. Santiestevan said it could be that Calvin has already returned home to Fundy with her first born, but has yet to be spotted.
   The first of the two biologist crews that the New England Aquarium will send to the Fundy area arrived at Lubec, Me., only two days ago. But Ms. Santiestevan said it's unlikely they have actually put into the water and started their count. That's because whale watching is very dependent on good weather.
   "If there's fog, it's not worth it, or if there's wind or rain, it's not worth ` it because you're not going to see whales. If the water's choppy, it's really not worth it.
   "And the area around Lubec is often socked in by fog. If they go out on the water every other day, they're doing well."
   The U.S. teams will join others who have been there since late last month. Naturalists from the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station and a biology team from Dalhousie University have been on the water since last month.

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