Subject: Info: APN--Right Whales (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Sun, 8 Sep 1996 14:42:40 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 8 Sep 96 13:24:00 GMT 
Subject: APN--Right Whales

APN--Right Whales

   The aquarium's Chris Slay says it was "an extraordinary
season" for right whales and public awareness along the
southeastern coast "is far greater this year than ever."
   On the seas, harbor pilots also monitor the whales. Shippers
initially worried that the network would disrupt tight schedules
and lead to higher costs, says Barb Zoodsma, a biologist with the
Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
   But an executive of Sea-Land Service Inc., one of the world's
largest shippers, says the network also protects vessels.
   "You would do a substantial amount of damage if you hit
something weighing 70 tons," says Glen Moyer, general manager of
vessel operations. "You would be an absolute fool not to take
evasionary tactics."
   Underwater, whales are tracked by a Navy submarine detection
system installed during the Cold War. Acoustic receivers on the
deep ocean floor track the whales' squeals, with the coordinates
distributed through the Early Warning System.
   The Navy's cooperation is required through the Marine Mammal
Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
   The low-tech end of the Early Warning System depends on
binocular-toting retirees on Florida's Space Coast. The
condo-dwellers, including former NASA employees, track whales out
their oceanfront windows for the nonprofit Marine Resources Council
of East Florida.
   The council uses 135 people to cover 1,000 square miles from
Daytona Beach, Fla., to Boca Raton, Fla. Sightings are reported to
the Florida Marine Patrol, which then alerts vessels.
   "A lot of our volunteers ARE rocket scientists," says Diane
Barile, the council's executive director. "We're pretty confident
when we say it's a whale."
   The condo crew identified 53 whales this year, a total that
surprised scientists, says Harry Richter, a retired IBM executive
who watches from his balcony in Sebastian, Fla., 60 miles north of
Palm Beach.
   "We're kind of the eyes and ears for the scientists," he says."We can
hopefully find some of these animals so they can better
understand where they go and where the critical habitat is."
   The Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants to
expand the network up to the Georgia line and down to Fort
Lauderdale, Fla. Now the council needs 115 more recruits by next
calving season.
   "Anybody who's been exposed to these whales seems to have an
affinity for them and wants to help," Richter says. "We haven't
found anybody who hasn't wanted to pitch in."
   Right whale mothers and calves leave southeastern U.S. waters in
early summer and head to Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel.
There they feed on swarms of plankton and meet up with the
wandering males.
   During that time, the Coast Guard includes whale sightings in
its notices to mariners and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration broadcasts whale coordinates via weather radio.
   In July, NMFS ordered the Coast Guard to alter its surveillance
runs along the Eastern Seaboard because they threatened several
endangered whales, including the right whale. The service also must
set up an Early Warning System off the New England coast.
   The New England Aquarium, which has photos of nearly all living
right whales and genetic samples from more than half, and the Navy
are researching acoustic devices for ship hulls to repel whales.
That technology remains elusive because it must target right whales
while not affecting other species and it must minimize burdens on
   "We have not yet come up with a technology that can be
applicable across the board," says Tom Peeling, a Navy
environmental planning official.
   Among the options being considered is a restriction on lobster
fishing. More than 30 whales have become stuck in lobster lines in
East Coast waters over a five-year period, with one right whale
dying, and NMFS wants to reclassify lobster fishermen as a threat
to the endangered whales.
   The proposed restrictions threaten to limit the livelihood of
the 12,000 to 14,000 lobstermen from Maine to New Jersey.
   "This is a very serious decision," Payne says. "It's the
obvious option, but it's not the leading option."
   NOAA also has proposed a 500-foot buffer zone around North
Atlantic right whales to keep gawking boaters from accidentally
plowing into them and planes and swimmers from harassing them. That
minimum-approach distance first was implemented by Massachusetts.
   The state has been made a partner in federal research, data
collection and enforcement programs required to protect and recover
marine species under the Endangered Species Act. Massachusetts
conducts its research with some of the $2 million generated by
optional state license plates that depict a submerging right
whale's tail.
   "Massachusetts laws have resulted in strong conservation
measures for endangered marine animals," says Andrew Rosenberg,
NMFS' regional director. "It really makes sense for the federal
and state government to team up and protect these animals."
   Descendants of families that long hunted whales now try to
protect the whales.
   One of the best known is Charles "Stormy" Mayo, senior
scientist for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass.
   For three months every year, Mayo's team is out on Cape Cod Bay
trying to do just that. It adds snapshots to its albums and updates
its logs every feeding season, trying to get a better handle on
who's visiting, who's reproducing and who's newborn.
   Mayo's appreciation of the whales grows with every encounter,
such as the one with Stripe and her son.
   "You're getting a look at a pretty special animal," Mayo says.
"We're stewards of their existence."