Right whales population passes 500

Published on June 16, 2014
Right whale
NOAA photo

The population of North Atlantic right whale is bouncing back, helped by rerouting of ship traffic in the Bay of Fundy. The right whale population now exceeds 500, the highest population on record since research began three decades ago.

In 2003, Irving Oil in Saint John worked with academics, professional mariners, environmental groups, the Canadian government, and the International Maritime Organization to reroute shipping lanes away from a significant right whale feeding ground and nursery habitat area. 

It was the first time in maritime history that shipping lanes were altered to protect an endangered species, and the changes reduced the risk of ship-whale collisions in the traffic lanes by 90 per cent.

Seventeen years ago, Irving Oil began working with the New England Aquarium to protect the endangered species. Since then, the company’s contribution to protecting the North Atlantic right whale has totaled more than $1 million and helps fund right whale research, conservation, and education.

For two months each summer and fall, researchers conduct shipboard surveys of North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy critical habitat area. They record whale sightings, track calving records and mortality rates, help untangle whales caught in fishing gear, and collect information regarding acoustics, genetics, and social behaviour. 

Over the winter months, researchers analyze their data to monitor the health of the population, and create additional programs that will help protect the North Atlantic right whale.

"The work our research team undertakes in the Bay of Fundy is critical to the right whale's long term survival and it wouldn't be possible without the help of Irving Oil," says Moira Brown, senior scientist at the New England Aquarium. "Our partnership is protecting right whales. Over 300 calves have been born since 1998 and the right whale population now numbers over 500."

Paul Browning, president and CEO of Irving Oil, says the company is proud of its long-term commitment to both the endangered right whale and the partnership with the New England Aquarium.

"Since our partnership began 17 years ago, there hasn't been a recorded ship-whale collision in the Bay of Fundy shipping lanes,” said Browning.

“We believe this partnership model is a great example of how industry and conservation interests can be both collaborative and pragmatic by effecting real change within our environment."