Photo courtesy of Joyce Morrell - Researchers Investigate the carcass of a 31-foot endangered northern right whale on Tuesday on Campobello Island. The young whale, a female, was found floating Monday off Grand Manan by a whale-watching operator. Opponents of an LNG facility in Maine say the death shows a proposed project is too dangerous to marine life, but researchers have: yet to decide how and where the whale died.

Whale death fuels LNG debate
Passamaquoddy Bay terminal opponents say whale hit near ship route

July 26/06

    Saint John - An opponent of a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Downeast Maine hopes the discovery of a young northern right whale floating off Grand Marian on Monday may be enough to derail the controversial project that would bring tanker traffic into Passamaquoddy Bay.
   "This little whale could turn out to be a poster child," said Art MacKay, the executive director of the St. Croix Estuary Project in St. Stephen. "It speaks to the LNG issue very nicely.
   "It is hard to say where the whale was struck, but it appears it was found directly in the route leading into Passamaquoddy Bay. My understanding is that it was near an area that we've been arguing is one of the most important calving and feeding grounds for whales in this part of the bay.
   "Hopefully, the little guy's life won't go to waste."
   Researchers from the New England Aquarium in Boston and the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island were studying the whale's carcass Tuesday on a beach in Head Harbour, a deep inlet on Campobello Island near East Quoddy Lighthouse. The whale was towed there Monday by Mack Greene, a whale watching tour operator in Campobello who sometimes works on a research vessel for the New England Aquarium.
   Jerry Conway, the marine mammal co-ordinator for Fisheries & Oceans Canada, said the cause of death was uncertain, although the whale had gashes on its right side. The results of a necropsy on Tuesday by Amy Knowleton of the New England Aquarium will help determine if the whale died from injuries inflicted when struck by a ship, or if it was already dead when a collision occurred.
   Conway said early indications were that the damage seemed consis tent with the whale being struck by a smaller vessel, similar to the size of a fishing boat.
   "There is no indication this was caused by a large vessel, like a tanker," Conway said.
   The endangered whale measured 31 feet long and was a female, between a year and a half and two years old. That news left tourism operators heartbroken. Scientists estimate the northern right whale's population at only about 350 animals.
   "That means another breeding possibility just went out the door," said John Eldridge of Quoddy Link Marine, which runs whale watching excursions out of St. Andrews. An employee of Quoddy Link was scouting for whales on Monday morning from an inflatable boat when he discovered the animal floating in the Bay of Fundy about three miles east of Whale Cove on Grand Manan.
   Greene, who runs three whale watching trips a day out of Head Harbou rWharf, was asked to tow the animal to shore Monday by the federal Fisheries Department. He said the 11-mile trip to Campobello took him five hours. His 20-passenger boat isn't built to tow a whale that weighs about 20 tons.
   Greene is opposed to LNG because he believes increased tanker traffic poses a threat to the whales. But he said Tuesday that there is no way to connect the right right whale's death to LNG, or even to local tanker traffic.
   "It looked to me like the whale was dead for at least one week, and possibly two," Greene said. "As strong as the tides are in the Bay of Fundy, it could have been hit in the Gulf of Maine or off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia and then brought here. But it is sad, for sure.
   "The right whale is probably the best whale to watch. When it comes to surface activity, when you get 10 or 20 of them together, there is nothing that matches it in the world."
   Canadians from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on down to people who live and work around Passmaquoddy Bay are opposed to LNG projects in the region because they believe it is too dangerous to bring tankers through Head Harbour Passage, which is between Campobello and Deer Island.
   Three LNG terminals have been proposed, but the closest to fruition belongs to Oklahoma-based Quoddy Bay LNG, which wants to build an $800-million terminal on tribal land at Point Pleasant, Me., with a storage tank farm in nearby Perry, Me. The proposed site of the pier where LNG tankers would dock is directly across the bay from Deer Island.
   Brian Smith, the project manager for Quoddy Bay LNG, express regret over the whale's death through a company spokesman.
   "We are saddened by the loss of one of Maine's endangered mammals, and hope that we, as part of the local community, can learn to better protect the environment by investigating the causes of its death," he said. "This news reinforces our efforts at Quoddy Bay to develop a comprehensive plan to mitigate all potential effects on marine life, whether endangered or plentiful, to ensure the protection of the bay environment."
   Measures taken to protect right whales include moving tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy. The whales, which lumber along slowly, were congregating in a fairly compact, oval-shaped area near Grand Manan, right in the middle of an inbound shipping lane.
   Conway said Tuesday that moving the shipping lanes has proved to be extremely effective - sightings are down in high-traffic areas by 80 per cent.
   "But if this turns out to be caused by a ship strike, it's still a concern," he said.

   Marty Klinkenberg is contributing editor of The telegraphJournal. He can be reached at 645326 or mklinkenberg@rogers. com