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Vol. 2, No. 2

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Fast ferry provokes whale concerns

Image: Canada is working on a recovery plan to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale, according to Jerry Conway, co-chair of the Canadian Right Whale Recovery Team and a marine mammal advisor for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The team hopes to complete a draft plan by late June, with the goal of having a federal recovery plan in place by next year. In the US, the species is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, but Canada has no federal regulations protecting whales. Scientists believe only about 300 right whales are living today, following years of hunting in the past.Yarmouth, Nova Scotia A high-speed ferry proposed to shuttle passengers between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Bar Harbor, Maine at speeds of 45 knots has raised concerns about potential collisions with endangered North Atlantic right whales migrating through the Bay of Fundy.

The 295-foot/91-meter vessel can carry 240 vehicles and 800 passengers, and will make the Yarmouth/Bar Harbor crossing in about two and a half hours, operating from late May through early October, according to John Cormier, vice president of operations and human resources for Bay Ferries, based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

"It's a massive catamaran," said Jerry Conway, a marine mammal advisor at the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). "We're very cognizant of that environmental concern," said Cormier. "We've employed a mammal expert to assist us in developing anything possible to prevent coming into contact with whales in that area," he said. Conway met with Cormier and Bay Ferries marine mammal consultant Ralph Davis in April to discuss the issue.

Canada has no federal regulations currently in place to protect whales. Only about 300 North Atlantic right whales, hunted to near extinction in the past are believed to exist today.

Some high-speed ferries already operate in Massachusetts, where a new Boston/Salem route is being proposed. A study on Massachusetts ferries prepared for the Executive Office of Transportation and Construction last summer by Boelter & Associates, Inc. stated that high-speed ferries can maneuver to avoid whales just as they can to avoid small craft in busy harbors.

But according to Charles "Stormy" Mayo, senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies based in Provincetown, Massachusetts, "any vessels traveling at relatively high speeds, say at higher than 20 knots, might not have an opportunity to see a right whale" in time to alter its course, as the mammals can dive for up to 25 minutes before resurfacing.

Mayo explained that whales are closest to Massachusetts shores in the late winter and early spring, before seasonal ferries begin their runs. But, he added, whales are not completely predictable. "Right whales will come right into harbors," where ferries travel, he said.

Bay Ferries' proposal is especially troubling because of the vessel's size and because of its route through a part of the Bay of Fundy used heavily by migrating whales, according to Mayo, who stated, "Last year the Bay of Fundy was reported to have had two thirds of the remaining right whales of the North Atlantic in it. The potential conflict there is considerable and deserves attention."

Maine highlights IYO events

Augusta, Maine Visitors and residents of Maine can keep up with International Year of the Ocean (IYO) events taking place in that state with a poster and web site created by the Maine Coastal Program, the Maine Sea Grant Program, and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Distributed to town libraries and other locations, the poster lists 28 events taking place during 1998, which the United Nations has declared the International Year of the Ocean to promote the understanding, exploration, sustainable use, and conservation of ocean resources.

The web site, found on the Maine State Planning Office home page (, includes a calendar of events, facts about the world's oceans, available publications, and information on how individuals can help protect ocean resources. There are also links to other IYO web sites.

NHEP maps help coastal planners

Portsmouth, New Hampshire The New Hampshire Estuaries Project (NHEP), in conjunction with local planning, land use, water quality, and wildlife experts, has produced maps that identify critical lands threatened by development in 19 coastal communities.

The objective of the project is to identify lands that have high natural resource value and also are favorable for development to assist groups working on land protection. Municipalities including Durham and Rye are already using the maps for development planning and natural resource protection.

For more information call Chris Nash at NHEP, (603) 433-7187.

MA pushes safe access around Boston Harbor

Boston, Massachusetts A "Harbor Walk Enforcement Initiative" announced by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) earlier this year will ensure that waterfront property owners comply with public access laws and remove hazards preventing people from using and enjoying the Commonwealth's shoreline.

On announcing the initiative, DEP named 15 waterfront property owners who are in violation of the state's public waterfront access law and are required to fix dilapidated piers, repair damaged sea walls, and make other improvements.

"As Boston Harbor comes back to life, more and more people will want to enjoy the waterfront," said Trudy Coxe, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. "The public is paying for the harbor cleanup, and now it's time for people to get a return on their investment and get out there and enjoy the beauty of the waterfront." The City of Boston is also working with DEP to fix portions of the Harbor Walk.

Dead blue whale leaves scientific legacy

Image: The blue whale recovered and brought ashore in Rhode Island will provide valuable information to scientists.Middletown, Rhode Island The first blue whale carcass recovered for examination on the Atlantic coast since the turn of the century is expected to provide a wealth of information to scientists.

National Marine Fisheries Service whale biologist Phil Clapham said the body was caught against the bow of a tanker that pushed it into Narragansett Bay March 3. Clapham said that ship could have run into the whale after it was already injured or dead, likely as a result of a collision with another ship. Official word on the whale's cause of death was still to be announced as of May 2.

The necropsy of the 65-foot/20-meter whale, which weighed 40 tons/36 metric tons, was coordinated by the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic Connecticut and included specialists from several research organizations. Clapham said genetic analysis of the dead whale will help with studies of blue whale population and anatomical characteristics. The skeleton and skull were taken to the New Bedford, Massachusetts whaling museum.

According to Clapham, the young male was not especially large for a blue whale, which can grow up to 90 feet/27 meters long in the North Atlantic and over 110 feet/34 meters in the Antarctic.

Though the species has been protected by US regulations and international treaties for years, hunting of blue whales earlier in the century reduced their numbers to dangerously low levels. Scientists don't know exactly how many blue whales are living today. "Despite the fact that this is the largest animal that has ever lived in the history of the world, finding them is really not that easy," because of their far-ranging travels, Clapham explained.

Happy birthday MCZM!
Twenty years ago, Massachusetts was the first state on the eastern seaboard to create a federally-approved Coastal Zone Management Program. Since then, the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office (MCZM) has implemented hundreds of initiatives to protect the Commonwealth's coastal resources and to improve the economy of coastal communities.

Gulf Calendar

Fish Aid Festival
August 14-16, 1998
Outdoor music festival to raise funds for marine research.
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Phone 1-888-929-2252

Coastal Zone Canada 98
August 30-September 3, 1998
Fax (250) 721-8774

Georges Bank Review hearings
Fall 1998
Public hearings on petroleum exploration and drilling on Georges Bank.
Halifax, Nova Scotia; other locations TBA
Phone 1-800-370-2282