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Whale-watching community 'absolutely heartbroken' after spike in deaths

https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/whale-watching-community-absolutely-heartbroken-after-spike-in-deaths-1.4493334


July 3, 2019


Experts along the Bay of Fundy are weighing in on the recent spike in deaths among the North Atlantic right whale population.


One marine biologist wishes Fisheries and Oceans enacted the speed restriction sooner in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.


“We are absolutely heartbroken in the whale-watching community,” said Nicole Leavitt Kennedy, senior marine biologist for Island Quest Marine Whale Watching in St. Andrew’s, N.B. “We have lost some very important whales to the right whale community: four females, two males, some whales that were just becoming of reproductive age, and whales that have been grandmothers.”


“We knew the whales were in the Gulf of St. Lawrence quite early this year and I was surprised to hear that the government didn't enact the speed restriction sooner,” said Nicole Leavitt Kennedy, a senior marine biologist for Island Quest Marine Whale Watching in St. Andrew’s, N.B.


Leavitt Kennedy has seen some North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy and she calls them “magnificent.”


With between 406 and 411 left, she feels more could have been done this year to avoid at least some of the six deaths. 


“We knew the whales were in the Gulf of St. Lawrence quite early this year and I was surprised to hear that the government didn't enact the speed restriction sooner,” Leavitt Kennedy said.


Of the necropsies that have been completed, three have revealed the cause of death as blunt trauma, which is consistent with the whales being struck by fast-moving ships.


“The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a very busy shipping area, so we're in hopes that further restrictions in speed will help with these whales,” Leavitt Kennedy said.

The six dead whales were discovered in the Gulf, but they used to call the Bay of Fundy home.


“Over decades, fishery, shipping, governments, everyone else, we found ways, people worked hard and found ways to live quite well with the whales,” said Matt Abbott, the Fundy Baykeeper and marine conservation director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

But now, Abbott says the whales are migrating north.


“Their food’s not here, so they're going elsewhere because they need to eat,” Abbott said.

So, those along the bay are sharing how they've lived and worked peacefully alongside the whales with their counterparts in the Gulf.


“We've been in communication with some of the fisheries associations in the Gulf,” said Lillian Mitchell, executive director of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association. “We're also working with the Maritime Fishermen's Union.”


The Fundy North Fishermen's Association has been operating a "ghost gear" program for a decade now. As part of that, they retrieve hundreds of old traps and thousands of metres of rope from the water to try to stop entanglements from happening.


“Our fishermen are the ones that devote their time and their resources to go out and try and clean up the bay as best we can,” Mitchell said.


They’re now educating other fisheries on the program.


“They are awe-inspiring,” said Leavitt Kennedy.