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Whales in Fundy at bad time of year

BY CHUCK BROWN
TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
November 21/06

    ST. STEPHEN - Marine researchers continue to monitor right whale activity, off New Brunswick's southern coast ready to respond to reports of entanglements.
   Dozens of the rare North Atlantic right whales were spotted over the weekend off Grand Manan island and further nortb between Campobello and The Wolves Islands. They're in the Bay of Fundy at a bad time of year - the start of the lobster fishing season.
   On Saturday I saw at least a dozen right whales just from Swallowtail (a lighthouse on Grand Manan)," said Laurie Murison, managing director ol the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station. "Sunday, again, I saw probably that many but they were moving farther off shore."
   Murison said Campobello fishermen reported 10 to 15 whales between Campobello and The Wolves Islands to the east.
   She said she's hopeful the whales are safe but said there's no saying for certain.
   "None have been seen entangled for sure and there certainly haven't been any official (reports), she said.
   "If there are entanglements we certainly have people ready to respond."
   Ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear are the whales' greatest threats. There are an estimated 350 right whales left in the North Atlantic.
   Murison said she had hoped the whales were moving out of the Bay of Fundy but the sightings on the weekend show they're still hanging around.
   "I was hoping the numbers were going down but they weren't on the weekend, Murison said.
   On Monday she saw one whale off in the distance from Swallowtail and two others off Grand Manan's north shore. That doesn't, however, mean the whales are moving out of the bay.
   "They are extremely mobile and it doesn't take very long for them to swim from different ledges off Portland back into the Bay of Fundy" Murison said.
   Fishermen have agreed not to set traps within two kilometres of any whale sighting and the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Cumella has been patrolling to monitor the whale activity. The Grand Manan Fishermen's Association set up a whale hotline to report sightings. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans also conducted aerial surveys to monitor the whales' positions.
   The opening of the lobster fishery was delayed a day last week, partly because of the whales and also because of weather.
   Normally the whales are moving south along the Atlantic coast by now on the way to their winter calving areas off Florida and Georgia.
   There are about 300 lobster licenses between Saint John and the United States border, but only about 20 fishermen set traps in the area between Blacks Harbour and Grand Manan Island, where most of the whales have been sighted.
With files from Canadian Press

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