nets prestigious international award
BY MARTY KLINKENBERG
On Tuesday, Moira
Brown re ceived a lifetime achievement award for more than two de cades of
protecting Northern right whales, the most endan gered whale species on Earth.
On Thursday, the Canadian-born scientist was wondering how she will continue to
do research with out funding.
For years, Brown and
associates from the New England Aquarium in Boston have spent the summer
studying right whales as they congregate in the Bay of Fundy. She learned
recently, however, that she will not receive any money from the National Marine
Fisheries Service in 2007 to conduct field studies to help preserve the
Brown said she normally receives $150,000 from
the U.S. federal agency, enough for her team to spend two months tracking the
whales as they gorge themselves on plankton off New Brunswick and Maine. In
2003, her research led to shipping lanes being moved in the Bay of Fundy, "
which drastically reduced collisions between tankers and the lumbering whales,
which number about 350.
"We are sort of scrambling right
now, try ng to find funding elsewhere; Brown said Thursday as she drove through
upstate New York en route to Thanksgiving din er at a friend's. "There is a
real possibility that we will have to stay home next sum mer that we won't be
in the Bay of Fundy for the first time in 27 years."
Brown, who joined the likes of chimpanzee researcher Jane
Goodall and naturalist Farley Mowat in winning a lifetime award from the
International Fund for Animal Welfare Canada, said her team is considerng
discontinuing field research on right whales in two other regions next year in
order to be able to continue limited work p the Bay of Fundy. Her team is
lobbying Congress in an attempt to getting its funding restored in 2008.
"We are looking at cutting back in a lot other areas in
2007 so that we can have continued presence in the Bay of Fundy, en if it means
coming there for two weeks instead of two months; she said. "We are making it
our main priority."
Brown said she will try to make up
for the shortfall by seeking financial help from foundations and corporate
sponsors, including Irving Oil, which since 1998 has helped support her
research. The Saint John based company was among the partners in the project
that saw shipping lanes moved, which Brown sees as one of her greatest
She also is proud of launching a genetics
research program for right whales, which is as tricky as it sounds.
"The first question was how to get a skin sample from a
60-foot animal at sea," Brown said, chuckling.
of Montreal, Brown spends most of her time in Massachusetts at the aquarium's
research centre for North American right whales. The organization also has a
satellite office in Saint John, which she visits while working in the Bay of
She was in Ottawa at the Chateau Laurier Hotel on
Tuesday night to receive her award, which she says was a humbling experience.
"I have a couple ofthoughts about receiving an award like
this: I'm too young, I'm worried I have nowhere to go but down, and the company
is incredibly impressive,. When they told me, I was blown away.
"I read every one of Farley Mowat's books when I was
growing up, and I watched every National Geographic special that Jane Goodall
ever did. These people were pioneers. I definitely feel outclassed."
In Ottawa, Brown was presented her award right after a
dog was brought up onjto the stage. The golden retriever was recognized for
helping rescue another dog that was being abused. "
people that I was sorry I couldn't bring a whale up with me. The way I look at
it, it's not really me but it is the right whale that warrants the recog tion.
"But no matter who gets it, it's really cool. It brings
attention to right whales."
Brown began working with the
Boston Aquarium in 1985 as a volunteer on its right whale project. Although she
was an ornithologist and retains a passion in birds of prey, she became smitten
with whales after working with them one summer, and decided to make that her
principal area of interest because there were no other Ca nadians involved in
the work, even though most of the research was being conducted in Canadian
Now she is one of the leading scientists in the
"Despite all of the progress we have made, there
is still a lot of mystery with right whales, a lot of things we we still need
to find out," Brown said. "Here it is 2006, and we still don't know where their
mating ground is, we still don't know where their summer nursery is, other than
the Bay of Fundy, and we still don't know where their wintering ground is."
Brown said that the New England Aquarium did an aerial
survey of the Bay of Fundy on Wednesday, and still found an unusual number of
right whales around Grand Manan. The whales have usually started migrating
south at this time of year, and their presence here is a concern to fishery
officials who fear they could become entangled inlobster gear.
Brown said that two right whales have been found in U.S.
waters in recent years trailing fishing gear from New Brunswick, one as far
south as the Carolinas.
"This is a real animal welfare
issue; Brown said. "While it's uncommon for us to get a report about someone
seeing a right whale or two in the Bay of Fundy at this time of year, it is
unusual for there to be so many. Usually, the whales and lobster seeing don't
Brown said she hopes to set up meetings with
New Brunswick lobstermen in January or February to discuss making gear
modifications that would help to protect the right whales. Fishermen in the
U.S. have already modified their gear to help, she said.
"We all understand the burden of the fishermen and we're
not trying to do am thing to hurt them, she said. "But we do need to sit down
and figure out what can be done to let them keep fishing and to re-duce the
impact on the whales."