Researchers find area used by right whales for wintering and perhaps breeding in Maine

   Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) believe that they have identified a wintering ground and quite possibly a new breeding area for the North Atlantic right whale in the Gulf of Maine.
During an aerial survey on Dec. 3, 2008, in the Jordan Basin area about 70 miles south of Bar Harbor, the researchers spotted 44 right whales. That discovery was followed on Dec. 14 by the sighting of 41 of the whales in the same general area.
The presence of the whales prompted NOAA to establish a Dynamic Management Area (DMA) from Dec. 12 through Dec. 25. Vessels over 65 feet were asked to keep their speed under 10 knots or to take alternate routes.
According to Kristen Koyama, ship strike coordinator at the NEFSC’s office in Woods Hole, Mass., compliance with the 10-knot speed limit is voluntary. She said that in the future an automatic identification system might be used to monitor compliance and provide data on vessel traffic. In an effort to advise mariners of active DMAs, their locations are broadcast over NOAA weather radio, through Notice to Mariners (NOTAMs), e-mail notification and alerts on the Web site
Koyama urged mariners to report any sightings to this pager number: (978) 585-8473. Vessels greater than 300 gross tons operating south of Cape Ann, Mass., were advised to report sightings directly to the Mandatory Ship Reporting System. Ships should report via Inmarsat-C using e-mail (, or telex (236737831).
It is unclear what effect DMAs will have on ship operations in the Gulf of Maine. In the nearby Bay of Fundy, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in cooperation with Transport Canada and Irving Oil reconfigured traffic lanes serving the port of Saint John, New Brunswick, away from areas where right whales are known to congregate. About 1,200 vessels including about 60 very large crude carriers call on the port each year. Further south, the United States has proposed that the IMO implement vessel routing measures involving the Boston Traffic Separation Scheme and the Great South Channels.
Bay Ferries Ltd., operators off The Cat ferry between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and the Maine ports of Portland and Bar Harbor, are also affected by the presence of right whales. According to Donald Cormier, vice president of safety and operations for the company, his bridge team members are vigilant in their efforts to avoid the mammals and ensure safe navigation. He said that he supports NOAA’s effort to protect the whales and noted that the Cat’s maneuverability, shallow draft, narrow catamaran hulls and absence of propellers all help reduce the likelihood of collisions.
According to Shelley Dawicki, a NOAA spokeswoman, “There are currently no proposals to change shipping lanes based on recent sightings near Jordan Basin in the Gulf of Maine. She said that “NOAA continues to monitor right whale distribution, ship strike events and traffic patterns in the Gulf of Maine and will consider further management actions if analysis shows that such action is warranted.

By Professional Mariner Staff