Friday, June 19, 2009

More Critical Habitat for Right Whales!!!

Ottawa widens right whales’ habitat

By The Canadian Press
Thu. Jun 18 - 4:46 AM

The federal government has added two critical feeding areas for the North Atlantic right whales to the Species at Risk Act in a bid to enhance protections for the endangered mammals.

The Roseway Basin off Nova Scotia and the Grand Manan Basin in the Bay of Fundy were added Wednesday as critical habitats as part of the government’s final recovery strategy for the animals.

David Millar of the federal Fisheries Department said the measure means Ottawa is obligated to legally protect the areas from activities that might harm it.

"They are areas that can be identified as essential to the survival and recovery of right whales, primarily because they’re very important feeding areas," he said.

The feeding grounds are important for the massive mammals as they migrate from breeding grounds in the southern United States to Canadian waters.

The whales stay in Canada for the summer to feed on plankton.

Millar said the addition to the act means Ottawa has 180 days to put the legal protections in place.

But it has not been made clear what these new safeguards might entail.

The Roseway Basin is on the Scotian Shelf about 50 kilometres off Nova Scotia and spans about 2,590 square kilometres.

There is already a voluntary "no-go zone" in the area that encourages vessels to steer clear because of the whales’ presence.

The designation as a critical habitat does little to stop fishing activities in the area.

Some of these activities could be linked to the whales becoming entangled in certain types of gear.

Still, environmentalists praised the move, saying it will help ensure protections for the valuable food sources for the whales.

Their numbers have dropped to about 400 following decades of hunting, ship strikes and entanglements.

"This is a population that’s on the brink of extinction and when you have a small population like that, protecting the areas that they most rely on is crucial," said Susan Pinkus of Ecojustice in Vancouver.

"The majority of the world’s North Atlantic right whales come into Canadian waters in the summer and fall and they feed."

Pinkus said the two Canadian areas comprise some of the whales five main high-use habitat areas.

The others are off the United States.

"The Roseway Basin, as well as the Grand Manan Basin, have been known for decades to be the most important habitats in Canadian waters for Atlantic right whales," said Scott Wallace, a sustainable fisheries expert.

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