Bay of Fundy Shipping Lanes

In 1982, the Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme (shipping lanes) was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and implemented by Transport Canada in 1983 to organize vessel traffic through an area used extensively for fishing. The shipping lanes are mandatory for all vessels over 20 m in length. At that time, little was known about the distribution of right whales in the Bay of Fundy and the threat of vessel strikes to their numbers. Between one-third to one-half of the known right whale population has been seen every year in the lower Bay of Fundy since 1980. A portion of the Bay of Fundy favoured by right whales for feeding and socializing is transected by the mandatory shipping lanes used by large vessels including tankers, containers ships, cruise ships and bulk carriers.

In 1992, Delilah was struck by a vessel and died in the
Bay of Fundy. Delilah’s skeleton and near life-size model
are on display at the New Brunswick Museum,
Saint John, New Brunswick.
In 1992, a right whale died after being seen thrashing at the surface by a recreational boater and his family near Grand Manan. Another large right whale and a much smaller whale were seen nearby. The carcass of the whale drifted ashore on Grand Manan a couple of days later and a detailed necropsy was performed by veterinarians and researchers with help from local residents. The cause of death was attributed to a vessel strike. Researchers at the New England Aquarium determined from the photographs taken that this was an adult female, known as Delilah and she was with her calf when she died. The orphaned calf, later named Calvin was not seen again in 1992, but showed up in the Bay of Fundy a year later. Delilah's death was not an isolated incident. Although this was the first known ship strike mortality of a right whale in Canadian waters, several had previously been documented in the American waters 1. Two more deaths from vessel strikes in the latter part of the 1990s in the Bay of Fundy led to an analysis of right whale sighting data and vessel traffic.

Delilah's orphaned calf, named Calvin survived. 13 years later in 2005 she brought her female calf to the Bay of Fundy nursery ground.
In 2000, analyses of data from 14 years of right whale surveys and radar tracking data of vessel movements illustrated the overlap between high densities of right whales and the outbound shipping lane. A relative probability analysis of the vessel and whale data showed that a relocation of the traffic separation scheme to an area with lower whale densities could reduce the probability of ship and whale interaction by 80%.

In December 2002, the collaborative effort between government agencies, the shipping and fishing industries, and the scientific community was rewarded by the adoption by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the amended traffic separation scheme. The full implementation of the change occurred on July 1st, 2003.

Right whale density in the Bay of Fundy in relation to the old shipping lanes (top) and the amended shipping lanes (bottom).
The new shipping lanes had an effect on commercial activities in the region: fishermen from Nova Scotia now do some of their fishing in the lanes instead of east of them and ships' passages are longer by 9 km (4.9 nautical miles) for the port of Saint John, New Brunswick, and 20 km (10.8 nautical miles) for the port of Eastport, Maine. Despite these inconveniences, both industries supported the proposal and their stewardship contributed to the recovery of the species in the Bay of Fundy.


1992, 1995 and 1997
Three right whale carcasses were found in the lower Bay of Fundy in these years. Necropsies performed by veterinarians determined the cause of death in each case to be the result of a vessel strike. These deaths triggered a series of actions and stewardship measures to reduce the potential for vessel and right whale interactions in Canadian waters.
1993 to present
Radio operators at "Fundy Traffic" (Marine Communications and Traffic Services, Canadian Coast Guard) informs ships transiting the Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme (shipping lanes) of the presence of right whales from June through November. Fisheries and Oceans Canada designates the Grand Manan Basin Right Whale Conservation Area 2.
Caution Mariners Pamphlet distributed in eastern Canada by harbour pilots and local port authorities to inform commercial and recreational mariners of the presence of right whale in Canadian waters, their designated conservation areas and measures to be taken to avoid vessel strikes of right whales 3.
An industry workshop on the right whale ship strike issue was held in Saint John, New Brunswick and led to the formation of a vessel-whale working group. The working group, co-chaired by Moira Brown (Canadian Whale Institute/Center for Coastal Studies) and Garry MacCaull (Transport Canada Marine Safety), was composed of biologists, representatives from the shipping, fishing and whale watch industries, and non-government organizations *.
1999 and 2000
Right whale sighting data collected by the New England Aquarium in the Bay of Fundy from 1987 through 2000 was analyzed by Dr. Robert Kenney to determine the density of right whales relative to the Bay of Fundy shipping lanes. Probability analyses of the right whale sighting data and vessel data in the Bay of Fundy, performed by Dr. Christopher Taggart and his graduate students at Dalhousie University, showed the overlap between right whales and the shipping lanes and established a new location for the lanes to reduce the relative probalility of a right whale being struck by a ship by 80%. The Canadian Right Whale Recovery Plan identifies ship strikes as a key element hindering the recovery of the species 4. The Vessel Whale working group prepares the ecological justification to amend the location of the Bay of Fundy shipping lanes away from high concentrations of right whales. The proposed amendment is presented for comment to the marine industry and the public in eastern Canada.
The members of the Canadian Right Whale Recovery Team and the regional and national Canadian Marine Advisory Councils support amending the shipping lanes to reduce the probability of ship and right whale interaction.
Spring 2002
Maritime Office of Transport Canada Maritime Safety held further public consultations with the fishing industry to insure that amending the location of the shipping lanes would not adversely affect other species or fisheries.
April 2002
Transport Canada, Marine Safety submitted a proposal to Subcommittee on Safety of Navigation of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to amend the Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme.
July 2002
The proposal is approved by the Subcommittee and forwarded to the IMO Marine Safety Committee.
December 2002
The proposal was adopted by IMO Marine Safety Committee. Transport Canada has six months to implement the measure. The Canadian Hydrographic Service began modifying the relevant nautical charts.
July 1st 2003
As adopted by IMO, the amended Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme is implemented. In August and September 2003, researchers reported that less than 2% of right whale sightings were recorded in the new shipping lanes, whereas 30% would have been in the lanes if they had not been amended.

* Vessel Whale Working group: Canadian Whale Institute/Center for Coastal Studies (M. Brown, co chair); and Transport Canada Marine Safety (G. MacCaull, co chair); Furcan (M. Long); F.K. Warren (S. Perry); Saint John Port Authority (P. Turner); Atlantic Pilotage (P. Gates); Marine Communication and Transportation Services (Fundy Traffic, F. Webster and C. Middleton); Irving Oil (R. Goddard and J. Logan); Grand Manan Fishermen's Association (K. Sonnenberg); Maritime Fishermen's Union (H. Saulnier); and World Wildlife Fund (C. Merriman).

1 Kraus, S. D. 1990. Rates and potential causes of mortality in North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). Marine Mammal Science 6:278-291.

2 Brown, M. W., J. M. Allen, and S. D. Kraus. 1995. The designation of seasonal right whale conservation zones in the waters of Atlantic Canada. Pages 90-98 in N. Shackell and M. Willison, eds. Marine Protected Areas Association, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.

3 Brown, M. W. 1994. Caution mariners: Please avoid collisions with right whales. Prepared for the Minister of Supply and Services, Communications Directorate, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO/4982), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

4 Anonymous. 2000. Canadian Recovery Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale. World Wildlife Fund Canada, Toronto, Ontario; Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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