August 20, 2005

Ship Zones Recommended to Help Whales

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick -- Scientists are recommending speed zones for ship traffic as one way to help to help the endangered North Atlantic right whale population.

Whale experts studying the right whale in the Bay of Fundy this summer said that while there are more calves than usual, too many of the slow-moving leviathans are being killed in ship collisions.

Moira Brown of the New England Aquarium in Boston says the Canadian government's decision to alter shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy has helped the right whale, but the U.S. government has not yet acted on recommendations for ocean speed limits and shipping lane changes.

"Over the past 16 months, we've had an unprecedented number of deaths," Brown said from Lubec, Maine, on the Bay of Fundy. "We lost eight animals and five were females, which means we lose not only those animals but their future offspring.

"Three of the adult females had nearly full-term fetuses at the time of their deaths. It has been a real big hit to the population in terms of reproductive future."

A new report by marine scientists says the right whale faces extinction within the next 100 years if current mortality rates continue. There are only 325 to 350 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.

Scientists and environmentalists have called on the U.S. government to implement a number of changes to protect right whales as they migrate along the Atlantic coast between Florida and the Bay of Fundy.

The recommendations include route changes for shipping lanes and speed limits when ships are entering areas at a time when right whales are known to be present.

"Vessel speed is increasing in the marine industry," Brown said. "It's true that none of us likes speed limits, but I think it would make a difference."