Right Whale Advocates Applaud Canada's Proposal to Move Commercial Shipping Lanes

Saint John, New

Industry
and wildlife
organizations that have
worked with Canadian
officials for the last three years on a plan to
protect endangered North Atlantic right
whales from ship collisions applauded
Transport Canada's proposal to move
commercial shipping lanes in the Bay of
Fundy.

North Atlantic right whales are the world's
most endangered great whales, with only
around 350 individuals remaining. Up to
two-thirds of them gather in the Bay of
Fundy each summer, where a major
shipping channel passes through the
whales' summer feeding grounds.

Transport Canada, the government agency
that regulates shipping, submitted a
proposal April 5 to the International Maritime
Organization (IMO) to move ship traffic lanes
in the Bay of Fundy so that they skirt the
area where most right whales congregate.
The Canadian proposal to move the shipping
lanes will continue to undergo local
consultation and will culminate in a decision
at the IMO annual meeting on July 12-16,
2002 in London, England.

"This is an important step to foster the
recovery of right whales since collisions with
ships are responsible for half of all North
Atlantic right whale deaths over the last 10
years. With a population of only 350, every
life lost is a blow to the population's genetic
strength," said Dr. Moira Brown, senior
scientist with the Center for Coastal Studies
in Provincetown, Mass., and the Canadian
Whale Institute in Bolton, Ontario. Brown
has worked on the lane-change plan since
1998.

Most of the female right whales are now en
route from their winter calving grounds off
Florida and Georgia to the Bay of Fundy,
between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

"For these whales, spending their summers
in the Bay of Fundy is like having their
playground in the middle of a highway," said
Karen Baragona of World Wildlife Fund's
whale conservation program. "We are
optimistic that when the IMO meets in July,
it will approve Canada's proposal to move
the shipping lanes within its own waters.
The whales can't wait another year, and we
congratulate Transport Minister Collenette
for taking this important step towards
reducing their risk of collisions."

The IMO is the United Nations agency
responsible for improving ship traffic safety.
The lane-change proposal had widespread
support in Atlantic Canada, including the
backing of Irving Oil, which employs the
largest shipping fleet in the Bay of Fundy.

For the past four years, Irving Oil has been
active on the right whale recovery team
working groups in the U.S. and Canada,
working with government officials, scientists
and environmentalists in finding practical
solutions for the endangered right whale
population.

"Irving Oil is the largest operator of ships
moving in and out of the Bay of Fundy and
we fully support this move to protect the
right whales feeding there," says John
Logan, manager of Shipping Operations for
Irving Oil. "We have been working with the
New England Aquarium for the past four
years on the issue of altering the shipping
lanes as well as supporting their right whale
research in the Bay of Fundy each summer.
It took some time to research and find the
correct solution and this looks like it will
reduce the chances of ship/whale
interaction substantially."

There has been other good news for the
right whales this year as well. The
population enjoyed another baby boom this
winter, with at least 18 new calves identified
so far, according to New England Aquarium
researchers. This comes on the heels of
last year's record of 31 calves and follows
several years of disastrously low
reproduction rates.

"We were thrilled to see so many new
calves swimming with their mothers this
year. Eighteen births is significant," said
Scott Kraus, director of research at the New
England Aquarium, which identified the new
whales. "But although this new infusion of
calves gives the whale population a
much-needed boost, their situation remains
dire."

The baby boom of the past two years, as
well as the disastrously low calf counts of
years past, appears to be related to shifting
oceanographic conditions that influence the
availability of the plankton these whales eat.
The New England Aquarium in Boston, the
lead organization working to identify right
whale calves each year, maintains a photo
catalogue of individual right whales.
Researchers there have identified at least 18
new calves this year, but Kraus notes that
more may be identified as researchers
continue to monitor the population in coming
months.

Since 1997, World Wildlife Fund and the
Center for Coastal Studies,
with the New
England Aquarium
, have worked in
partnership to support critical right whale
research, increase federal funding available
for conserving this species, and raise public
awareness about threats to its survival.

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