Friday, March 13, 2009

Whales force Royal Caribbean cruise ship to abandon port call in Maine

This headline was found online on the USA today cruise ship blog on March 3, 2009. They quoted the Herald Gazette of Rockland, Me, the port where the cruise ship was scheduled to visit in June:

"The news outlet says Royal Caribbean told officials Friday that the 2,446-passenger Grandeur of the Seas wouldn't be visiting as planned because of a recently announced federal restriction that limits vessels to no greater than 10 knots (11.5 miles) per hour in a protective area off Cape Cod. The ship would have had to transit the area to reach the town."

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the new restriction in December as a way to reduce ship strikes with right whales. Only around 350 northern right whales exist and ship strikes are one of the leading causes of death for the animals.

The restriction runs from March 1 to July 31."

Obviously with any change in shipping rules and patterns there will be ramifications. I suspect slowing down through right whale habitat was going to cause scheduling problems with the cruise ship and they chose to skip one port. It is unfortunate that the merchants in Rockland and Camden will not benefit from the visit of this cruise ship but in the long run, it is hoped that these changes will save a few right whales from being killed after colliding with these large, fast moving vessels. There is only one reason right whales are endangered today, the unrelenting onslaught from whaling until they were protected. Their recovery has been slowed by deaths from collisions with vessels and complications from entanglement.

It is apparent, however, that some people are unaware that if a right whale is hit by a cruise ship, it will not be a "bump" as was posted by "mzdab3000" in response to this article. The whale would not survive, just as a person would not survive being hit by a fast moving tractor trailer.

This person also went on to say "the first endangered species that needs protection is the working men and women of this country. And worry about the protection of whales second." This is exactly what is getting the humans in deeper and deeper trouble and our actions are now grossly affecting the global natural environment. It is difficult with the current economic situation to loose this potential income but if we can not come to the realization that continual development is not sustainable, we are in for a much wider collapse than loosing one cruise ship visit to one port.

Royal Caribbean still intends to include Rockland in their schedule, but after the speed restrictions are over for this year. It is unfortunate that they could not promote this visit to Rockland during the speed restrictions as their part in potentially saving a right whale but in reality, the probability of a vessel strike is further reduced by eliminating this visit entirely when right whales are likely to be in the shipping lanes in this area.

The U.S. government should be applauded for instituting this speed rule on the recommendation of various groups concerned with reducing the number of right whales killed through collisions with vessels and not criticized.

Wart still entangled

As is reported on our AdoptRightWhales website, Wart was recently entangled. Here is an update on her status.

Wart was seen entangled off Cape Cod Bay just over a year ago, March 6, 2008. On March 15 a disentanglement team from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies were able to shorten one of the trailing lines that looped through her mouth, exiting on both sides and trailing behind her, but the rope remained in her mouth. There were no other sightings of Wart until February 25, 2009, when she was again found in Cape Cod Bay. The line is still through her mouth. Often with simple entanglements such as this, the rope will work its way out of the baleen but with over 300 long, stiff plates of baleen in the mouth of each right whale, rope can be held firmly in place and work up to the top of the plate where the plate enters the gum line. This an hold it in place unless there is some drag on the rope to help tug it out of the mouth.

We are keeping our fingers crossed that the rope will eventually work its way out and will not adversely affect her. She will continue to be monitored by the disentanglement network.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Will the number of right whale calves this year break the 40 mark?

As of March 3, there have been 38 right whale mothers and calves identified on the calving grounds in the SE U.S. and one dead calf not currently attributed to a particular mother. A few possible mothers are still in the calving area so the number could grow. This number of calves is beginning to reach what should be seen biologically in this population but historically has been much lower and certainly an incredible difference from 2000 when only one right whale calf was born. Over 200 right whales have been seen this winter on the calving grounds, another extremely high number where far fewer right whales are usually seen. Over 80% of these mothers may bring their calves to the Bay of Fundy which could make for a very interesting summer.

Unfortunately, Bridle, #3311, is still entangled and her condition appears to be deteriorating. Disentanglement attempts are planned in hopes that some of the lines can be cut and relieve this whale of a painful burden. She spent several days off Florida and Georgia when she was first seen entangled and then travelled as far north as Block Island off Rhode Island before turning around and heading back to Florida. A satellite telemetry buoy attached to the trailing lines has been providing the position data for her travels which greatly helps in planning an disentanglement attempts.