Friday, October 01, 2010

{Press} Warning system keeps ships, right whales apart

By Doug Fraser | Doug Fraser | September 30, 2010

"PROVINCETOWN — The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary display at the Cape Cod National Seashore’s Province Lands Visitor Center is surprisingly modest, with computerized charts and an accompanying video.

Those who stop by to see it are looking into a portal that reveals how private industry, scientists, researchers and the government can work together to benefit the environment — in this case, to prevent ships from hitting right whales.

The new warning system is the first in the world to show, in real time, the general presence of endangered whales as well as ships in one of the mammals’ most populous gathering spots.

Scientist and sanctuary research coordinator David Wiley last year garnered the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the agency’s top honor, for his role in relocating busy international shipping lanes around the Outer Cape to minimize whale strikes and for the sanctuary project publicized in the Province Lands exhibit.

The display shows shipping lanes that bend around the Cape and make a beeline for Boston, cutting through the heart of the sanctuary. Ships make about 3,400 trips across the sanctuary each year. A brief video with whales, ships and satellites helps explain graphics on an adjacent chart showing the ships moving in and out of Boston and the right whales that also might be in the area.

In a telephone interview this week, Wiley recalled that in 2007, the hard-won agreement with the international shipping industry that shifted shipping lanes to protect whales was suddenly jeopardized when Excelerate Energy and Suez Energy decided to locate two deepwater liquefied natural gas "ports" close to the sanctuary and the reconfigured marine highway.

LNG ships are among the fastest and largest vessels afloat, he explained. In the case of whales, it is speed that kills. Slowing vessels by just a few knots dramatically increases the whales’ chances of surviving or avoiding a collision."

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