Whale of a Tale

New England Aquarium, Irving Oil partner to save right whales

BOSTON -- Late each summer in the coastal waters between Maine and Canada, much of the endangered North Atlantic right whale population swims into the Bay of Fundy to feed. Numbering fewer than 350, these 40- to 50-ton whales share the busy bay with fishing boats, marine research vessels and the shipping industry.

Refiner-marketer Irving Oil Corp. works in a unique partnership with whale scientists from the New England Aquarium to enhance the right whales' survival prospects, the company said.

The New England Aquarium announced [image-nocss] yesterday that it has named Irving as its Founding Corporate Research Partner for the protection of the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Since 1998, Irving has been actively involved in efforts to protect right whales, supporting research and partnering with scientists from the New England Aquarium, as well as governmental officials, fisherman and environmentalists in the United States and Canada.

Scott Kraus, the New England Aquarium's vice president for research said, We are pleased and proud to honor Irving Oil for their genuine commitment and dedication in protecting North Atlantic right whales. Irving's involvement has included not only ongoing financial support, but the significant investment of senior staff time, and most importantly leadership in the shipping and business communities. That leadership has been instrumental in getting all parties to recognize that the efforts to better protect right whales are in everyone's self-interest.

Kraus added, Some skeptics might assume that whale scientists and a major oil company could only be adversaries. In fact, Irving has been one of our greatest allies and supporters. We both want to protect right whales, and scientists and business people do share a practical, problem solving approach. We first had to get to know each other. Over the years, New England Aquarium scientists have learned first-hand about shipping operations, and Irving officials have seen feeding right whales up close. Together, Irving and the New England Aquarium have demonstrated a willingness and strong capability to find practical, science-based solutions to problems facing right whales."

One such problem was the potential for a right whale/ship collisions in the Bay of Fundy, where one of the right whales' most popular feeding grounds overlapped with the established shipping lanes. John Logan, a senior manager at Irving, was asked to investigate how his company might help preserve the right whale population since it employs the largest shipping fleet in the Bay of Fundy. Logan said, We are proud to have played a crucial role in supporting the changing of the shipping lanes in July 2003, which moved ships farther away from the world's most endangered whales. One year after the shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy were shifted away from the feeding grounds, the probability of a ship/whale accident was reduced by about 95%.

This move marked the first time shipping lanes were altered to protect an endangered species. Over the last decade, ship collisions have been responsible for about 40% of all known North Atlantic right whale deaths.

Moira Brown, a senior right whale scientist with the Aquarium, said, The cooperation of the shipping industry was critical in negotiating the shipping lane relocation. The partnership is unique because it was done with the best interest of the right whales in mind. There was no legislation requiring industry to participate in conservation measures to protect right whales, but when Irving learned of the threat to right whales they took the lead.

To make the public more aware of the challenges facing right whales, Irving and the New England Aquarium are working together on an education campaign this autumn. Irving Oil will be distributing right whale stickers, posters and bookmarks in its Bluecanoe and Mainway convenience stores throughout Atlantic Canada and New England. In addition, educators from the New England Aquarium will conduct its popular right whale day in schools in Portsmouth, N.H., South Portland, ME, and Saint John, New Brunswick. The centerpiece of the school presentations will be a life-sized, 55-ft., inflatable right whale as well as numerous exhibits.