Shipping Lanes & Whales
Shift of Shipping Lanes May Help Right Whales.
The International Maritime Organization (the IMO is the United Nations agency that has responsibility for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships) is considering a proposal to amend the shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy to protect right whales in a prime feeding ground. The federal agency’s (Transport Canada) proposal marks the first time the IMO has amended a traffic separation scheme for marine mammals. PCCS Senior Scientist Dr. Moira Brown is leading the joint U.S.-Canadian effort to move the shipping lanes just over four nautical miles to the east – a critical shift out of the heart of known right whale sightings in the bay.
During the summer of 2002, the IMO Sub-Committee on Safety and Navigation approved a proposal submitted by Transport Canada that successfully outlined why the shipping lanes should be moved, and where best to move them. In December, the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee is expected to adopt the measure and once the Canadian government updates its shipping charts, the new regulations would go into effect as early as next summer.
By overlaying right whale sightings within the Bay of Fundy over the last fifteen seasons of research with current navigational charts, the need for the shift was apparent to all shareholders involved in the process, from researchers to Irving Oil, the bay’s largest operator. “We needed to do something to reduce the potential for interaction between ships and whales,” said Brown. The Bay of Fundy hosts the largest supertanker port for crude and refined oil products between Louisiana and Saint John, New Brunswick as well as one of the highest concentrations of right whales between June and October. During the past ten years, the deaths of at least three right whales have been attributed to collisions with large vessels.
The proposed lane shift would decrease the likelihood of further ship strikes, one of the leading causes of human-related mortality in right whales, by decreasing ship/whale interaction. Data for the project was collected and analyzed collaboratively by researchers from PCCS, the New England Aquarium, Dalhousie University, Cardiff University and the University of Rhode Island.
This conservation act for right whales demonstrates that people from many walks of life can work together successfully to help make a big difference for endangered species,” said Brown. “The fact that this conservation action was produced in the absence of any legislative or regulatory obligation in Canada speaks volumes about the dedication of all those involved.” In recognition of this work, Dr. Brown received a Visionary Award from the Gulf of Maine Council.