whales need slower ship traffic to survive: scientists
BY CHRIS MORRIS
recommending go-slow zones for ship traffic in their race to save the North
Atlantic right whale from extinction.
studying the endangered right whale in the Bay of Fundy this summer said Friday
that while there are more calves than usual, too many of the slow-moving
leviathans are being killed in ship collisions.
Brown of the New England Aquarium said the Canadian government's decision to
alter shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy two years ago has helped the right
whale, but more changes are needed, especially along the U.S. East Coast.
"Over the past 16 months, we've had an unprecedented
number of deaths," Ms. Brown said in an interview from Lubec, Me., on the Bay
"We lost eight animals and five were females,
which means we lose not only those animals but their future offspring. Three of
the adult females had nearly full-term fetuses at the time of their deaths. It
has been a real big hit to the population in terms of reproductive future."
Ms. Brown said that while scientists know of eight whale
deaths in recent months, many more go undetected and unreported.
"We are looking for measures that will reduce mortality,"
"At this point, one right whale, especially an
adult female with a fetus, makes a big difference."
Scientists and environmentalists have called on the U.S.
government to implement a number of changes to protect right whales as they
migrate along the Atlantic coast between Florida and the Bay of Fundy.
The recommendations include route changes for shipping
lanes and speed limits when ships are entering areas at a time when right
whales are known to be present.
"Vessel speed is
increasing in the marine industry," Ms. Brown said.
true that none of us likes speed limits, but I think it would make a dif
So far, only the Canadian government has responded by altering
shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy.
Ms. Brown said the
U.S. government is raising regulatory hurdles - including citing security
concerns over speed limits - and has yet to make any significant changes.
The North Atlantic right whale population is
estimated at only 325 to 350 animals.
A recent report by
senior marine scientists, published in the journal Science, a publication of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science, warns that the right
whale faces extinction within 100 years if current mortality rates continue.
Laurie Murison of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird
Research Station in New Brunswick, said she has spotted 50 to 75 right whales
in the Bay of Fundy this summer.
She said there are at
least eight mother and calf pairs.
Ms. Murison said
people are constantly searching for ways to make life safer for the baleen
whales, which can grow to the size of a city bus and are notorious for lolling
on the surface.
She said one scientist is studying alarms
to alert the whales to a coming boat or an area they should avoid.
But the idea needs more work, she said.
"Their reaction was to come just beneath the surface and
listen, which of course brings them into more danger."
Ms. Murison said the fishing industry is sensitive to the
right whale's plight. The two biggest causes of death for the whales are ship
strikes and fishing gear entanglement.
Ms. Murison said
measures being considered for the fishing industry include glow-in-the-dark
rope and gear with weak links that could be broken by a thrashing whale.
Despite international protections since 1935, North
Atlantic right whales remain one of the most endangered whale species in the
world after 1,000 years of whaling brought it close to extinction in the early