Technology helps researchers track endangered right whales off the Atlantic coast

Researchers will again this year use the latest technology to track the movements of North Atlantic right whales in the waters off Atlantic Canada in an effort to protect endangered animals.

This is the second year of a five-year, $3.6 million project using autonomous ocean vehicles called underwater gliders.

Fred Whoriskey, executive director of Dalhousie University’s Ocean Tracking Network, says the two gliders used last year successfully provided timely information to reduce whale-ship collisions.

“One was patrolling shipping areas to provide early warning systems for the presence of whales and to give Transport Canada and (the Department of Fisheries) the information they needed to implement conservation measures. , like forcing ships to slow down so they don’t kill whales as they transit the area,” Whoriskey said in a recent interview.

The second glider was positioned at the mouth of the Cabot Strait to try to detect the animals as they moved through the gulf for the first time.

The federal government announced in March that the Department of Fisheries will again enforce fishing area closures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Bay of Fundy after whale sightings.

Since Wednesday, Transport Canada has again applied vessel traffic measures, including speed restrictions for vessels over 13 meters in length, across much of the Gulf.

There are thought to be fewer than 330 North Atlantic right whales left, but Whoriskey says no whale deaths were reported in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last year, a sign that something is being done .

“There’s no question we’re in for a fight,” Whoriskey said. “We must do everything to promote the survival of calves and protect the females who will produce these calves.”

Sean Brillant, senior conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, said Thursday that the whales migrate along the east coast of the United States and some may have already entered Canadian waters. He said the number of calves spotted this year is promising.

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“So far this year, 15 calves have been born. In 2017, this species had no calves,” Brillant said in an interview.

“This species has only 330 animals or less. Probably around 100 and as few as 70 are females capable of bearing young. So it’s a critically endangered species,” he said.

Brillant said the calves are a sign that the whales are getting the food and protection they need in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the summer months. “It’s a good sign that they have young, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. We still have a long way to go to make sure we’re protecting the species,” he said. he declares.

He said 20 or more whales die every year and new calves won’t be ready to breed for another nine or 10 years.

He highlighted a bright spot regarding whales. One of the new calves was born to a whale named Snow Cone which, in March 2021, was observed entangled in heavy fishing rope.

“This animal was partially disentangled by crews in the United States and Canada…This is the first time we’ve seen an entangled whale that has given birth,” Brilliant said.

He said scientists hope to spot Snow Cone this summer and may try to remove more rope, but he says it could be difficult if the calf is present. So far, the new calf has not been given a name.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 21, 2022.

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