Thursday, November 30, 2006

Right whales heading south...finally!

Good news to report this week. About 40 rare North Atlantic right whales that were lingering in the Bay of Fundy are finally heading south. It's assumed that they delayed their departure by six weeks because of an abundance of plankton in the Bay.

The Department of Fisheries reports that they were spotted in the Gulf of Maine as they ventured further south.

Earlier this month, lobster fishermen agreed not to set traps within two kilometres of a whale in a bid to prevent entanglements, while the Fisheries Department conducted aerial surveillance flights to track their movements.

Officials and conservation groups say the whale's eventual departure caps a bleak season that saw the loss of two females and the deaths of a calf and adult that were hit by ships in the summer feeding grounds.

Two whales could have produced in excess of 20 calves over their lifetimes - a vital contribution to a population that has dwindled to about 320 worldwide after years of being slaughtered, dying in gear or being struck by ships.

About 19 right whales were born this year, but one calf was killed and a pregnant female died in U.S. waters.

Scientists and ecologists are hoping to reduce the risk of ship strikes by pressing the International Maritime Organization to make the Roseway Basin an area to be avoided by large vessels. Whales migrate to the basin, a diverse ecosystem rich in marine life off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia, every year to feed on plankton and other food sources.

Lori Murrison of the Grand Manan Whale and Seaboard Research Station said Transport Canada has approved the initiative to issue an advisory to seafarers and is optimistic the international group will approve it, possibly next year.

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