FILE/CANADIAN WHALE INSTITUTE A rightwhale is shown in this handout photo. Two new areas that teem with endangered North Atlantic right whales have been given special protections against container traffic.

Right whale measures `critical step' for recovery

JUNE 22/09

    Marine experts are welcoming new fed eral measures designed to protect the endangered right whale, but they say much more needs to be done.
   The federal government has added two right whale feeding areas to the Species at Risk Act as part of on-going efforts to preserve and expand the fragile population of North Atlantic right whales.
   Laurie Murison, executive director of the Grand Marian Whale and Seabird Research Station, said the addition of the Grand Marian Basin in the Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin off Nova Scotia is a critical step.
   But she said it's the long trek the whales take each year to get into those feeding zones that is now the issue.
   "The definition of critical habitats has been worked on quite a bit, but the actual movements of the whales have yet to be incorporated in some way," Murison said.
   "The unnerving thing about drawing boxes on a chart is that people then assume that is the only place these animals are going to be."
   The newly designated areas are where right whales feed on plankton after spending the winter off the southern United States.
   Although there was a record number of right whale calves born in winter nursery waters this year, the population still sits at approximately 400 mammals.
   The new measures mean Ottawa is obligated to legally protect the feeding grounds from activities that might harm right whales or disturb their food supply.
   Some of the measures are already in place, including the relocation of ship-ping lanes in the bay between Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
   Others measures will be put in place within the next 180 days.
   Moira Brown, a Canadian expert on right whales and a senior scientist with the New England Aquarium in Boston, said only about two thirds of migrating right whales relocate to the Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin.
   "So there has to be another feeding area where mothers bring their calves."
   The New England Aquarium provided all of its data to Fisheries and Oceans to help create an informed recovery strategy.
   Brown said that the next stage is for Fisheries and Oceans to take the lead on implementing the strategy. She said whale entanglement in fishing lines while migrating should be the next issue addressed.
   "Now we can move to the next major human activity," she said. "It's almost a shopping list of things that we need to do to promote right whale recovery.
   "There was a bit of an overlap between the lobster fisheries in November in the Bay of Fundy and there are also some other fisheries that are carried out when right whales are off the coast of Nova Scotia."
   There was a spike in the number of right whales entangled in lobster trap ropes this year.
   David Millar of the federal Fisheries Department said more critical feeding areas may yet be identified.
   "The recovery strategy sets out the general objectives, goals and approaches, but we will have a follow up action plans that are required under the act on how to implement the strategy"
   Murison said it may be unrealistic to think that someday the entire right whale migration channel will be safeguarded. She said experts will need to continue working on potential compromises with industry.
   "It would be nice to have the entire migration recognized, but it's not going to happen because when you actually get into legislating these areas it gets awful complicated," Murison said. "The actual migration routes are still a work in progress on how you give the whales any protection because it's such a huge area."

Right whales get added protections

    HALIFAX-The federal government is enhancing protections for endangered North Atlantic right whales by adding two important feeding grounds to the Species at Risk Act. The Roseway Basin off Nova Scotia and the Grand Manan Basin in the Bay of Fundy have been added as critical habitats in the act The measure means Ottawa is obligated to legally protect the areas from activi ties that might harm it. The feeding grounds are important for the massive mammals as they migrate from breed ing grounds in the southern United States to Canadian waters, where they feed in the summer. There are only about 400 of the animals left in the world.