Gov’t should have acted quicker to pre­vent right whale deaths, ex­pert says

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Kevin BISSETT

FRED­ER­IC­TON — A whale ex­pert says Cana­dian of­fi­cials did not re­spond quickly enough to this year’s migration of North At­lantic right whales and now five of the en­dan­gered an­i­mals have been found dead.

Lau­rie Muri­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Grand Manan Whale and Se­abird Re­search Sta­tion, says while ves­sel speed lim­its, fish­ing re­stric­tions and other mea­sures are now in place, they should have come sooner.

“They have re­acted now, but it is some­thing that needs to be in place at the be­gin­ning of ev­ery sea­son. You need to look at what’s go­ing on and what the dis­tri­bu­tion is,” she said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day.

Muri­son said it was clear from Gulf of St. Lawrence sur­veil­lance flights that the whales were trav­el­ling fur­ther to the east this year than in the past two years.

“The whales are go­ing to go to wher­ever the best food re­sources are. They can vary from year to year and we don’t have a long term data­base for right whales in the Gulf,” she said.

Necropsy re­sults show at least one of the dead whales had in­juries con­sis­tent with a ves­sel strike.

Fish­eries and Oceans Canada (DFO) con­firmed Wed­nes­day a right whale was found dead on the shores of An­ti­costi Is­land near the Gulf of St. Lawrence, bring­ing the num­ber of re­cent deaths to five.

In a state­ment, of­fi­cials said sci­en­tists are on scene col­lect­ing samples for anal­y­sis, and work­ing with var­i­ous part­ners to as­sess necropsy options.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, Is­abelle El­liott, a marine mam­mal re­sponse of­fi­cer with Fish­eries and Oceans, said the age and iden­tity of the fifth whale was not yet known.

She said the first whale was a nine-year-old male named Wolver­ine and necropsy re­sults were in­con­clu­sive.

The se­cond dead whale was a 40-year-old fe­male known as Punc­tu­a­tion, and her in­juries were con­sis­tent with a ves­sel strike.

A necropsy was scheduled for Fri­day in Nor­way, P.E.I., on the third whale – a 34-year-old male named Comet.

El­liott said the name of the fourth whale, an 11-year-old fe­male, was not yet avail­able. She said the carcass was too de­com­posed to al­low for a necropsy.

DFO of­fi­cials said that as of Thurs­day 16,000 square kilo­me­tres in the Gulf are closed to fish­ing, based on con­firmed right whale sight­ings since April 28. The snow crab fish­ery will close in the south­ern Gulf as of this Sun­day.

Trans­port Min­is­ter Marc Garneau said Wed­nes­day that ves­sels 20 me­tres or longer are now re­stricted to 10 knots in two des­ig­nated ship­ping lanes north and south of An­ti­costi Is­land in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence.

He added the speed restrictio­n is an in­terim mea­sure.

How­ever, the gov­ern­ment will is­sue a fine of up to $25,000 to those who fail to fol­low the speed limit, Garneau said.

On Thurs­day, Michelle Sanders, di­rec­tor of clean wa­ter pol­icy for Trans­port Canada, was asked why the speed re­stric­tions weren’t in place ear­lier. She said wider speed re­stric­tions be­gan April 28, but there were ex­clu­sions within the ship­ping zones be­cause data over the last two years showed no whales in those ar­eas, and the speed lim­its would be im­posed as soon as any whales were spot­ted.

FISH­ERIES AND OCEANS CANADA HANDOUT PHOTO

A North At­lantic right whale found dead last week in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been brought to shore on western Cape Bre­ton for a necropsy. The 40-year-old fe­male whale named Punc­tu­a­tion, was towed late Mon­day to Pe­tit Etang, N.S., where pathol­o­gists from P.E.I.’s At­lantic Vet­eri­nary Col­lege were ex­pected to ex­am­ine the carcass.

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