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Lingering North Atlantic right whales heading out of Bay of Fundy

BY ALISON AULD
Canadian Press
November 25/06

    Dozens of rare North Atlantic right whales that were lingering in the Bay of Fundy are finally heading out of the area, amid fears that some could become ensnared in dangerous fishing lines as they move south.
   Officials said Friday that there were as few as three of the massive mammals in the bay, after more than 40 of them had delayed their departure by six weeks because of an abundance of plankton.
   Jerry Conway of the Department of Fisheries said the endangered whales were trekking south on their annual migration and were spotted in the Gulf of Maine as they venture toward waters off Georgia and Florida.
   But, he said he's received unsubstantiated reports of whales becoming entangled in lengths of lobster line that create a hazard for the slow-moving creatures as they pass through the bay. Conway said fishermen have found some of their gear is missing, raising the possibility that it may be wrapped around some whales.
   "There may be two or three whales entangled in gear, he said. "It has been suggested that there is gear missing that may be showing up in the near future on whales."
   One whale was apparently freed from lobster gear by a fisherman who spotted it and managed to disentangle it. The move came after the start of the lobster fishery was delayed slightly by the whales' presence in the bay.
   Lobster fishermen agreed not to set traps within two kilometres of a whale in a bid to prevent entanglements, while the Fisheries Department conducted aerial surveillance flights to track their movements.
   Officials and conservation groups say the whale's eventual departure caps a bleak season that saw the loss of two fe males and the deaths of a calf and adult that were hit by ships in the summer feeding grounds.
   Both females were killed in Canadian waters, with one found to have 17 vertebrae in her back crushed in a ship collision.
   "The loss of even one female right whale could have a significant impact on the ability of the species to survive; said Conway. "The loss of two is a really serious impact."

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