CANADIAN PRESS A right whale is
shown in this undated handout photo. Scientists think they may have found a
wintering ground and mating area of the whales in the Gulf of Maine south of
they've found right whale mating site
A record number of
North Atlantic right whales have been discov ered swimming together south of
New Brunswick, giving rise to new hope for the future of the endangered
More than a tenth of the entire population of
the whales is travelling as a pod in the Gulf of Maine, which scientists think
may be a wintering ground and mating area for the rare leviathans.
It's estimated there are only 325 right whales living.
Until now, scientists had little idea where the whales
were spending their winters.
"There was always the
question of where the right whales were in the win ter time,' said Laurie
Murison, executive director of the Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research
"There was a big percentage of the population
missing. They knew where they were, we didn't. This is very exciting when you
actually have the will and ability to find these whales."
A total of 44 right whales were spotted together in late
December by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during a
routine aerial search.
The right whales spend most of the
summer in the Bay of Fundy. Pregnant females migrate down the Atlantic Coast in
the fall to warm Florida waters.
Other whales don't make
the trek, but they are not found in the Bay of Fundy in December, January and
"So this potentially might be a mating area for
right whales in the winter time;' Murison said. "There's talk of this now being
designated as a critical habitat for right whales."
Brown, a Canadian expert on right whales and a senior scientist with the New
England Aquarium in Boston, said the find is extremely important.
"We have been getting an inkling of this, but when you
see it for the first time and you have never seen it before, you really go
`wow, "Brown said.
"It's hard to believe that there are
still some major mysteries about right whales, but there are, and this was
certainly a big part of the picture that hadn't been filled
Brown, who is also a member of New Brunswick-based
Canadian Whale institute, said the plan is to gather as much information from
aerial surveys as possible.
She said human activities in
the area also will be studied and may have to be reduced for the safety of the
Brown was behind one of the most important
protection measures for right whales in Canada - relocating the shipping lanes
in the Bay of Fundy.
In 2003, the shipping lanes were
moved from areas with a high density of right whales to areas where they are
less numerous. The United States has done the same.
North Atlantic right whale has been protected as an endangered species since
1970. Despite warning systems, ship strikes remaining the primary threat for
the slow moving mammal.
Murison said this finding will
create another safe haven for re-population of the right whale.
"You now have to recognize these are highly endangered
whales and once you can identify an area where there are a significant number
of them you can develop some sort of conservation;' she said. "Just the
recognition of where right whales may be is very important to these animals."