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The North Atlantic right whale population Is showing signs of recovey thanks in large part to a change in shipping lanes PHOTO: MARIANNA HAGBLOOM NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM '

Shipping lane changes make things right for whales

OTIENA ELLWAND
TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
JUNE 07/12

    The right whale population in the Bay of Fundy is on the rise largely due to the rerouting of shipping lanes around critical whale habitat
    This year marks the 10th anniversary of the program, achieved through a partnership between Irving Oil Ltd., New England Aquarium and several other interest groups. It's the first initiative of its kind to alter shipping lanes to protect endangered species, help ing to reduce whale-vessel collisions by 90 percent
   There are now over 450 North Atlantic right hales. Prior to this, such collisions were the leading cause of death.
   "The right whale population is essentially double what it was in the previous two decades, so we're seeing 20 to 22 calves per year, said Moira Brown, senior scientist at the New England Aquarium's John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory.
   "It's a great pleasure to go out in August to see a mother-calf pair that was photographed `in January off the coast of Florida; Brown said. "When that little calf was born it weighed a tonne.... By now it's been suckling on mum's milk during the migration and now here it is in the Bay of Fundy and it's probably about seven or , eight tonnes."
   The project proved successful for both industry and whales, said John Logan, manager of project management and controls at Irving Oil.
   "The risk went down a lot by moving the lanes. The whales are safer and there haven't been any known ship strikes in the Bay of Fundy, he said. . Irving Off also ordered its chartered ships to operate at slower speeds around whale habitat and had its ships double-hulled to prevent against spills. The partnership turned into valuable learning experience for both Logan and Brown. Logan accompanied the., scientists on some field work and' said that seeing :the whales up close with people who know them ' was "reallyspecial." "A whale pops its head up and° (the scientists) point, `Oh there's Stumpy, we haven't seen him in three years," 'Logan said, laughing.
   Meanwhile, Brown came to understand the technicalities of shipping practices and parameters.
    "Just think about driving down the highway and hitting the brakes to avoid a deer," Brown said as an analogy of how a boat going 12 to 13 knots has to put its engine in reverse in order to stop.
   "These ships have so much momentum, it takes them two miles to stop. That was the first 'oh wow' moment. We can't ask the mariners to avoid these whales themselves. They operate in the dark and in foul weather,"she said.
   Brown said that right whales became some of the most endangered large whale species in the world because they were such easy targets for whalers due to their accessibility from shore, slow swimming speed and ability to float after death.
   "It was the whalers that gave it the name, right whale to kill because they could be hunted successfully with a very low level of technology" Brown said.
   They were hunted for their blubber and baleen. Baleen is a type of filter system that hangs from their upper jaw in lieu of teeth. It allows right whales to swim openmouthed through a large concentration of plankton, sieving food in and water out. The baleen was used in such things as corsets and buggy whips.
   This weekend, Brown will be in Saint John as part of the education and awareness campaign, Right Whale Program.
   On Saturday from noon, until 2 p.m. she will be at Irving Oil's Open House and Neighbour Day at Champlain Heights School.
   And on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., she will be participating in the Saint John Port Days' Community Event at the Marco Polo Cruise Terminal.
   An inflatable, life-size replica of a right whale is to be on display at both events.

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