History of Our Right Whale Conservation Partnership With Irving Oil

Right whales are found in high concentrations each summer and fall in the Bay of Fundy between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and on Roseway Basin south of Nova Scotia. The central and deepest portion of the Bay of Fundy is the Grand Manan Basin. Here, tides and currents concentrate copepods, the preferred food of right whales. In recognition of the importance of this area and the Roseway Basin area for right whale feeding, they were designated in 1993 as Right Whale Conservation Areas and in 2009 identified as Critical Habitat by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The right whale area in the Bay of Fundy is also transited by large vessels through mandatory shipping lanes. In the mid 1990s, the recognition that vessel collisions with right whales were affecting recovery of the species throughout their range led to the formation of a Canadian working group to address the overlap between right whales and vessels in the Bay of Fundy.

A right whale calf gets a closer look at researchers in the Bay of Fundy. Photo: Maria Hall
Read more about this calf and see breaching photos in this post.

Since 1998, Irving Oil has partnered with the New England Aquarium on research, education and conservation efforts to improve the recovery potential of the North Atlantic right whale. The company's shipping fleet partnered with the Aquarium as well as Canadian government agencies, fish harvesters, academics at Dalhousie University and environmental groups to develop the justification to reroute the shipping lanes around the right whale feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy. The re-routeing plan was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO, an agency of the United Nations) and implemented by the Government of Canada in 2003 reducing the risk of a vessel collision with a whale in the shipping lanes by 90 percent. The unique, collaborative model of science and industry successfully working together over the long-term can be applied to other conservation and environmental issues.

It’s been 10 years since the shipping lane change was adopted. As an industry partner, Irving Oil has been more than a funding supporter, but has been hands on through joint stewardship efforts. Most importantly, since the shipping lanes change, Irving Oil has continued to be involved through ongoing support of right whale research, education and additional stewardship efforts for reducing vessel collisions in other right whale habitat areas in Canadian waters, such as the IMO adoption and Canadian government designation of the Roseway Basin Area to be Avoided. As well, Irving Oil has participated in continued right whale recovery efforts through the Right Whale Network, which meets annually. Since 1998, Irving Oil has contributed annually to the Aquarium's right whale research program in the Bay of Fundy, and continues to be involved in further protection efforts as an active member of the Canadian North Atlantic Right Whale Network.

Right now, Irving Oil is running a promotion on their facebook page that lets whale fans send a message that is translated into whale vocalizations! You can help fund our research by participating and sending message. Visit www.facebook.com/irvingoil to learn how.

A graphic from Irving Oil's Irving Oil's facebook page explaining its contributions to the New England Aquarium's Right Whale Research Program and highlighting our conservation work to reduce the risk of vessel collisions with right whales in the Bay of Fundy  

 -Moe Brown


A Father's Day Family Tree

As Father's Day approaches, we've been thinking about one of our more successful whale fathers: Misstip (Catalog #1156). While it is very difficult with right whales to distinguish social actions from actual mating, we have been able to make some major advances in our ability to determine paternities among the whale population in the North Atlantic, like Misstip.

Misstip (foreground) has a white fluke tip, which makes it easier to tell him apart from other individuals such as the one in the background of this photo! Photo: Cyndi Browning

Misstip was first seen in 1981 and was given his name because he is missing both his fluke tips. He has sired five identified calves with four different females: Shenandoah (#1266), Stripe (#1135), Bugs (#1241), and Fermata (#1001), and is also grandfather to three identified grand-calves! And while father to five and grandfather to three doesn't sound all that impressive, keep in mind how small the total right whale population is—around 500 animals. In "human terms," as a percent of the total population, Misstip would be the father of around 70 million (1% of 7 billion)!

What a handsome father Misstip is! Photo: Moira Brown

This family tree of Misstip is based on DNA research, carried out by our colleagues at both Trent University in Ontario, Canada and St. Mary's University in Nova Scotia, Canada, where DNA gathered from small skin samples (much like a biopsy) is compared against a database of known genetic samples. This genetic database project was launched in 1988, and to date we've collected genetic material from more than 70 percent of the right whale population, making the database a key tool in our further understanding of the species as a whole, the relationships between animals, and the lineage of individuals like Misstip.

A right whale skin sample collected at sea must be preserved quickly yet properly! Photo: Monica Zani

For the DNA database and all the other ongoing right whale research projects, we want to say thanks to all the dads, and moms, and children, who have supported our work through their sponsorships.

And to Misstip and all the other dads, Happy Father's Day!

-Right Whale Research Team + Volunteers


Speed restrictions for protection of right whales in perpetuity!

A proposed rule put forward by the National Marine Fisheries Service was posted today in the Federal Register. The proposed rule would extend, in perpetuity, speed restrictions implemented in December of 2008, due to expire in December 2013. This is exciting news for right whales! We'll provide more details about this story soon. But the bottom line is that the shipping industry is to be commended for complying with this rule that has clearly made a difference for the North Atlantic right whale. Comments on the proposed rule are due by August 6, 2013. Please take the opportunity to provide your input and show support for this important rule!