Whale Conservation - Bay of Fundy
North Atlantic Right Whales Eubalaena glacialis - The Problem
Canadian Context
  Canadian Right Whale Recovery Plan
Right Whale Characteristics
Challenges to Recovery
  Conservation Zones
  Whale Disentanglement Network
Habitat Changes
Low Genetic Diversity
What happens if a dead right whale is found?
  New Brunswick Stranding Network
Role of Research
  North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium
How can you help?

North Atlantic Right Whales Eubalaena glacialis - The Problem

  • Right whales were hunted to near extinction.right whale
  • Commercial hunting began hundreds of years ago 
  • Blubber & baleen were valuable commodities
  • Protection from whaling has not resulted in increased numbers of North Atlantic right whales.  Their population hovers between 300-350 individuals.
Canadian Context
Right whales occur in many areas along the eastern coast during the summer & fall, with the Bay of Fundy being a primary nursery and feeding area. The Canadian Right Whale Recovery Plan was developed to address issues specific to right whales and recommend actions to promote the recovery of these whales.
      Canadian North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Plan: The Right Whale Recovery Plan was a joint effort of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, World Wildlife Fund Canada, biologists, shipping interests including the Canadian Coast Guard, fishing groups, whale watchers and conservationists. Team members acted as individuals with specific expertise, and not necessarily as representatives of their departments, agencies, or organizations.
The mandate of the Canadian Right Whale Recovery Team was to develop a strategy and appropriate recommendations for promoting the recovery of right whales in the western North Atlantic, to a point at which the population is no longer endangered. In pursuing this mandate, the Recovery Team endeavoured to:
1. Evaluate the current status of the right whale population in the western North Atlantic;
2. Identify known and potential threats and limiting factors impeding population recovery; and
3. Find ways of reducing or eliminating those threats that are related to human activities.

In September 2000, the Right Whale Recovery Plan was officially launched and the Right Whale Implementation Team was formed and met for the first time to begin the process of implementing the recommendations of the Plan.  Our managing director, Laurie Murison, was part of the Recovery Plan Team and was also works on the Implementation Team.

Right Whale Characteristics

Challenges to Recovery
Recovery of right whales is contingent on protecting their habitat and preventing accidental deaths. Elements to consider:

    • Incidental deaths (ship strikes & entanglement)
    • Habitat changes
    • Toxins & pollutants
    • Genetic bottlenecking
    • Ship Strike
back to toppropellor scars in right whale
Because right whales are slow swimming, difficult to see, rest at the surface, engage in surface social behaviour, react at the last minute to approaching vessels, they are vulnerable to being hit. Photo: Laurie Murison

Possible Remedies

  • Moving shipping lanes. Right whales in the Bay of Fundy often occur in the outbound shipping lanes from the port of Saint John, New Brunswick. Through the efforts of all stakeholders, the shipping lanes were successfully redesigned to reduce potential overlap with right whales by 80%. This is the first time shipping lanes have been moved because of an endangered species.
  • Early warning systems alerting traffic to presence of right whales
  • Conservation areas
  • Posted bow watch
  • Avoiding areas of right whales
  • Slowing down
  • Education & research
  • Notice to Mariners alerts
      Right Whale Conservation Zones (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, DFO/4982, 1994) Caution Mariners: Please avoid collisions with Right Whales!
      The North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered large whale in the world.  Right whales are present in the waters of Atlantic Canada from June to December.  Treat right whales as you would another ship - please steer clear of whales to avoid collision.  Do not expect right whales to get out of the way.  They are not aware of ships.

      Right Whale Conservation Area #1:Grand Manan Basin, Bay of Fundy. This area is important to the right whales for feeding and is where mothers bring their calves. Threats: Collisions with ships, entanglement in fixed fishing gear. Coordinates:

    NW 44° 45'N 66° 35'W
    NE 44° 45'N 66° 18'W
    SW 44° 30'N 66° 35'W
    SE 44° 30'N 66° 18'W
    Right Whale Conservation Area #2: Roseway Basin: located between Browns and Baccaro Banks southern Scotian Shelf.This area is important to the right whales for feeding and mating. Threats: Collisions with ships, entanglement in fixed fishing gear. Coordinates:
    NW 43° 05'N 65° 40'W
    NE 43° 05'N 65° 03'W
    SW 42° 45'N 65° 40'W
    SE 42° 45'N 65° 03'W
    right whale conservation areasSeasonal Guidelines (in effect June-December):Avoid these areas if possible. Due to the location of the eastern portion of Area#1 in the main shipping channel to Saint John, New Brunswick, this may not be feasible. Area #2 can easily be by-passed to the north or to the south.2. If the area cannot be avoided, decrease vessel speed, post a lookout and steer ship around any right whale activity.3. If a right whale is sighted or a collision occurs, please report the position (in latitude and longitude) to the Department of Fisheries and oceans via Canadian coast Guard Radio Station, or fax at (902) 426-8003 or via Fundy Traffic Control (VHF channel 14).
    Right whales are very susceptible to entanglement in fixed fishing gear such as gill nets or lobster traps mainly because of how they feed - with their mouth open, skim-feeding. The entanglement is often in the mouth, and around the flipper, body or tail. Severe entanglement can result in immediate death from drowning, infection, exhaustion, vulnerability to further entanglement, increased susceptibility to ship strike, inability to feed - all leading to death.
    Disentangling - Temporary Solution
    • Until solutions can be found to prevent right whales from becoming entangled in fishing gear, teams trained to disentangled whales attempt to free whales from gear.  This is dangerous and not always effective. Even when a whale is disentangled it can die from infection.
    • Whale Disentanglement Network: In the Bay of Fundy the team is primarily focused on right whales but can disentangle other species as the need arises.  This is a co-operative program with a number of groups including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, New Brunswick Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, East Coast Ecosystems, New England Aquarium, Center for Coastal Studies, local whale watch companies, interested residents and the GMWSRS.  The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Program provided  funds for equipment purchased to establish a full cache of disentanglement equipment (located at Westport, Brier Island, NS), and first responder kits on Grand Manan and Campobello Island.   To report entangled whale in Canada call the toll free Environmental Emergency number 1-800 565 1633.
    • If you encounter an entangled whale it is best to leave it alone but if possible stay within sight of the animal, ideally until another vessel can take your place.  Do not attempt to disentangle the whale.  Please contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans through Canadian Coast Guard Fundy Radio, VHF Channel 16, or by calling the Environmental Emergency number 1-800-565-1633.  Any photo-documentation may also be helpful. 
      You may be asked the following questions:
      What kind of whale is it and if you are with the whale, what is your location?  If not, when and where did you last see the whale? Is the whale anchored?  If not, what direction was it traveling? Can you see lines or gear?  If so describe the gear (rope, floats, buoys, etc.) Where is the gear? Flippers, body, tail stock, mouth, over the head, etc. Is the whale able to breath?Are there any other vessels in the area?  This is particularly important if you can not standby the whale.
    Other Solutions
    • Industry involvement with modifying and changing fishing gear
    • Reducing the number of vertical lines
    • Changing fishing seasons to prevent overlap with whales
    • Temporarily removing gear when whales are present
    • Standing by gear
    • Education & research
    Another interaction with fishing gear can lead to entrapment in fixed fishing traps such as herring weirs. Right whales are not usually entangled in gear but are free swimming in the trap. Efforts by the trap operator can free the whale without injury.
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    Habitat Changesright whale calf
    Right whales live along highly industrialized and busy coastlines. Contaminants and other pollutants are becoming persistent. Drugs and hormone mimicking chemicals are regularly discharged into ocean water. Coastal waters are becoming increasingly nutrient rich promoting toxic blooms. Species composition are changing. Climate change is affecting water temperature and current patterns. Any efforts to protect and restore local environments will ultimately also benefit the oceans. Photo: Laurie Murison
    • Reduce and prevent discharge of excess nutrients & toxic chemicals - i.e. proper sewage treatment, proper disposal of chemicals
    • Reduce airborne pollution
    • Prevent global warming
    • Remember the 3 Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle
      Habitat Changes: Disturbance
      Noise levels have increased with more ship traffic, blasting, seismic exploration and other activities. Acoustic deterrents for other species are increasingly used. Right whales are repeatedly approached by whale watchers & researchers.
      • Establish guidelines of what are acceptable noise levels & disturbance
      • Develop whale watch regulations promoting cautious, respectful behaviour towards right whales.
        • In the U.S.:  a permit is required to approach a right whale closer than 500 yards (460 m), thus eliminating any right whale watching.
          In Canada: Whale watchers have developed a Code of Ethics to reduce disturbance to right whales. Whale watching regulations &  licensing are being developed. 
      • Monitor research activities to limit potential, persistent disturbance & harmful activities
      Habitat Changes: Inadequate Food Resources
      Overfishing has changed species composition, resulting in changes in competition & prey availability. Destruction of the ozone layer can reduce phytoplankton a critical component of the ecosystem. Too many nutrients can promote growth of toxic phytoplankton.
      • Establish & maintain management practices that protect & enhance the marine environment
      • Prevent overfishing & carefully consider new fisheries
      Habitat Changes: Catastrophic Events
      Oil spills are extremely destructive to the marine environment. Only limited information is available as to the effects on right whales. Other toxic chemicals are also transported over water or can enter from land spills. In the Bay of Fundy, local groups, industry and government agencies regularly meet to develop contingency planning, train volunteers and educate the public in the event of a disaster. More information is needed to properly understand how to protect marine mammals, and in particular right whales. Proper disposal & treatment of petroleum products can help.
    Low Genetic Diversityright whale V blow
    Right whale populations were severely reduced leading to low genetic diversity
    This can lead to increased inbreeding, resulting in low reproductive rates, lower calf survival
    lowered disease resistance. Some animal populations have recovered from similar situations. Intervention is not possible but protecting right whales from incidental mortality is crucial. Photo Laurie Murison
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    What happens if a dead right whale is found?
    Dead whales can be scientifically examined and the data obtained used to determine how the whale lived and died. If the carcass can be recovered, a team will attempt a dissection or necropsy. Even though right whales were heavily hunted, little is known about them. Valuable information can be learned including cause of death. A growing number of museums have added skeletons to their collections to preserve & display. 

    New Brunswick Stranding Network: Live, mass strandings of toothed cetaceans are not common in the Bay of Fundy.  Most stranded whales are ones that have died at sea and drifted ashore.  We have investigated the establishment of a New Brunswick Stranding Network as a co-operative program with a number of New Brunswick organizations including the New Brunswick Museum, Maritime Atlantic Wildlife, Federation of New Brunswick Naturalists, New Brunswick Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Department of the Environment and other interested groups and individuals.  Funding in 2000 from the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund allowed us to research the feasibility of such a network.  Much more work needs to be done to have a fully functional stranding network.   To report a stranding event in the Bay of Fundy, call the toll free Environmental Emergency number 1-800 565 1633.
    Role of Research
    Even basic biology about right whales is lacking in many cases
    Directed research can help with specific problems as well as generating new information
    Long term research is essential to learn about a long-lived species
    North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium: The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) began as a group of  researchers studying North Atlantic right whales.  The group now includes any who are interested in right whale research and meets annually in the fall at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts, USA and more recently the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, MA.  Our managing director, Laurie Murison, is on the board of the NARWC.  A website has been developed
    • North Atlantic right whales are highly endangered
    • By our mere existence, humans threaten the survival of right whales 
    • Ship strikes & entanglement in fishing gear are recognized as leading causes of death
    • However, it is equally important to protect right whale habitat - which means preserving oceans from radical changesright whale mother and calf Photo: Laurie Murison
    How can you help?
    • Learn as much as you can about the plight of these whales
    • Enjoy meeting others who share your views and concerns
    • Support efforts to reduce ship strikes
    • Select seafood caught using environmentally sound practices
    • Support efforts to prevent further deterioration of the oceans (e.g. reducing underwater noise, reducing "greenhouse gases", reducing excess effluent and toxic discharges) 
    • Support conservation and research groups and their efforts to help wildlife
    • Make your views known to local, provincial and federal representatives
    • Watch marine life appropriately. Carefully choose who you use as guide or tour operator
    • Report inappropriate activities or marine life in distress, including entangled whales to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans 
    You can also help us save the North Atlantic right whale by adopting an individual whale, a mother/calf pair, or a whole family! The tax deductible fee will go directly towards our costs for right whale research, conservation and education programs. We can also tailor individual adoptions for class projects.

    Other web sites dedicated to whale conservation:
    International Fund for Animal Welfare
    Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society
    Center for Coastal Studies - whale disentanglement page - browse through 'What we Do' pages
    WhaleNet Index - browse index for right whale pages
    North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium

    Adopt-a-Whale programs
    GMWSRS - Adopt Right Whales
    New England Aquarium - adopt-a-right whale

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    Page revised September 30 2006
    GMWSRS 24 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB, E5G 1A1
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