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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 New Brunswick.

Scientists believe they've found right whale mating site

ADAM HURAS
TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
JAN 7/09

    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 species.
   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 Station.
   "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 February.
   "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."
    Moira 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 in."
    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 whales.
   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.
   The 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."

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