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Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Atlantic Canadian Waters.

2. Recovery (cont'd)

2.4. Performance Indicators

Measurable performance indicators are a critical component of right whale recovery action plans to gauge the extent that recovery activities contribute to the stated recovery goal for the species.  A set of progress indicators have been devised for each of the strategies identified under the seven recovery objectives.  At this stage, many of the indicators reflect the current lack of knowledge about right whales, and have been also identified as research activities.  During regular intervals, the recovery strategy and action plans will be reviewed; progress indicators should be revised to reflect increasing knowledge.  Indicators outlined in Table 2 therefore are preliminary, and subject to change as knowledge increases and as recovery action plans are implemented.

Table 2. List of general indicators of progress to assist in determining the extent that recovery is being achieved. Each set of indicators corresponds to a specific recovery objective for North Atlanticright whales in Canadian waters.

Recovery Goal

To achieve an increasing trend in population abundance over three generations


Recovery ObjectiveMeasure of ProgressPerformance Indicator

Objective 1:

Reduce mortality and injury as a result of vessel strikes.


        Management strategies and options to reduce risk have been evaluated and appropriate action taken

        Information on traffic patterns is maintained and areas of risk identified   


        Rate of interactions in Canadian waters declines

        Regular analysis of vessel/right whale risk and mitigation measures is conducted

Objective 2:

Reduce mortality and injury as a result of fishing gear interactions (entanglement and entrapment).



        Potential/known interactions of right whale and all fishing industry activities are identified, monitored and documented

        Management strategies and options to reduce interactions have been evaluated and prioritized with the fishing industry

        Disentanglement and emergency response capacity is in place i.e. networks of trained responders  

        Rate of interactions in Canadian waters decline

        Regular analysis of gear/right whale risk and mitigation measures is conducted

        Increased involvement in mitigation efforts by fisheries associated with higher risk gear

        Possible disentanglement efforts are conducted

Objective 3:

Reduce injury and disturbance as a result of vessel presence or exposure to contaminants and other forms of habitat degradation



        Potential/known threats to habitat have been identified and documented

        Mitigation measures developed to reduce known harm to habitat quality from human activities have been evaluated and implemented


        Assessment of impacts of contaminants on right whales are completed

        Harmful levels of noise in North Atlantic right whale habitat is taking place at acceptable levels and durations

        Human-induced impacts on food supply are understood and reduced where possible

Objective 4:

Monitor population and threats.


        Population monitoring activities are conducted regularly 

        Monitoring of existing and emerging threats is regularly conducted

        Historic and current sightings are compiled and updated.

        Knowledge from monitoring activities is accessible to a broad range of user groups


        Information collected in monitoring programs is disseminated

        Regular forums to discuss monitoring results are held

        Necropsies are conducted when possible

Objective 5:

Increase understanding of life history characteristics, low reproductive rate, habitat and threats to recovery through research.


        Priority knowledge gaps have been addressed

        Knowledge from research activities accessible to a broad range of user groups

        Critical habitat studies have been completed


        Research is published

        Regular forums to discuss research results and threat mitigation are held

        Critical habitat in Canadian waters is identified and protected

Objective 6:

Support and promote collaboration for recovery between government agencies, academia, environmental non-government groups, Aboriginal groups, coastal communities and international agencies and bodies.



        Regular meetings among interested parties to discuss right whale conservation are held

        Aboriginal peoples’  participation in right whale conservation efforts

        Canadian participation in international and bilateral discussions to promote right whale protection and recovery

        Efforts to coordinate research across jurisdictions of the North Atlantic are underway


        Successful implementation of right whale conservation activities increases

        Cooperative bilateral or multilateral arrangements to advance right whale research and conservation

Objective 7:

Develop and implement education and stewardship activities that promote recovery.



        Awareness programs are underway to target key user groups, government, and the general public

        Evaluation of the effectiveness of outreach efforts

         Public have ability to report dead, stranded, entangled and entrapped right whales

        Measured increase in awareness and support for recovery activities

        Key user groups work to develop and implement best practices (stewardship)

        Right whale emergencies are reported in a timely fashion

2.5. Knowledge Gaps

There are a number of gaps in our knowledge about the right whale in Canadian waters. These gaps occur in areas of current and potential threats, biology and ecology, and habitat requirements. The following is a list of priority actions that are required to fill the knowledge gaps.

2.5.1  Threats

  1. Evaluate existing or potential mitigation techniques that reduce vessel strikes in Canadian North Atlantic right whale habitat;   
  2. Identify mechanisms involved in North Atlantic right whale responses to oncoming vessels, e.g. ability to avoid vessel strikes to help design potential mitigation;
  3. Identify nature of entanglements and evaluate potential mitigation techniques, such as gear modification, that may reduce entanglement or entrapment in fishing gear that is used in Canadian waters (existing and new fisheries);
  4. Evaluate the overlap in space and time of North Atlantic right whales and fishing gear to help design potential mitigation;
  5. Identify response mechanism of right whales to acoustic stimuli, and definition of harmful effects to help design potential mitigation;
  6. Identify contaminant levels in right whales and contaminant sources in their Canadian habitat;
  7. Identify the potential for harmful effects from recreational or research activities and determine thresholds to help design mitigation;
  8. Investigate and evaluate potential threat from pathogens.

2.5.2  Ecology and Biology

  1. Investigate the reason for lower than normal reproductive rate;
  2. Investigate the population distribution and abundance outside of the two known areas of right whale concentration in Canadian waters;
  3. Investigate the right whale mating system and sources of impaired reproductive success;
  4. Investigate the physiological condition of right whales in relation to their reproductive performance;
  5. Investigate the increasing variability in annual calf production and inter-calf interval through time;
  6. Develop reliable estimate of historical (pre-whaling) population abundance, for use in determination of a recovery target;
  7. Collect pertinent traditional knowledge of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

2.5.3   Habitat

  1. Identify any additional critical habitat in Canadian waters;
  2. Identify factors and indicators influencing shifts in habitat preference and use;
  3. Identify wintering ground(s) used by males and by females not due to give birth;
  4. Identify location of the non-Bay of Fundy nursing grounds;
  5. Identify prey distribution and production in eastern Canadian waters, and its relationship to the annual distribution of right whales.
  6. Identify and model oceanographic processes that influence spatial and temporal distribution of right whales in Canadian waters.

2.6.  Statement of When One or More Recovery Action Plans Will Be Completed

Recovery action plans are the documents that lay out how recovery strategies are to be implemented. The action plans take recommendations from the recovery strategy, either individually or collectively, and chart out who needs to be involved and to what extent in carrying out the proposed activities.

It is expected that the action plan for this species will be developed in multiple chapters outlining steps to be taken to implement the recovery strategy. The first chapter will be developed within two years of the posting of this strategy, with a second developed no later than five years after the posting of this strategy. Two priorities that have been identified thus far for action planning include reviewing critical habitat identification for Roseway Basin based on ongoing research and addressing potential interactions with fishing gear.

In the interim, work can still begin and continue on many of the strategies in this document. Therefore, recovery implementation will be an ongoing activity that can occur in the absence of any formal action plan. Furthermore, the Recovery Strategy recognizes the need for adaptive management; as new information becomes available, the actions for recovery may be modified.

2.7. Actions Completed or Underway

Many right whale research, conservation and stewardship, outreach and recovery efforts have been initiated by government and non-government organizations in the past 20 years.  The Right Whale Recovery Team was first assembled in 1997 and published a recovery plan in 2000 that outlined the key issues facing the right whale and the research and actions required to encourage recovery (WWF/DFO 2000).  Many of the actions proposed in that plan were completed or are currently underway.  The following provides the highlights of actions undertaken to date, with details and references to many of the studies described throughout Section 1 (Background).  

2.7.1.  Mitigation of threats

The Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) has provided financial support to a variety of right whale projects in Atlantic Canada, promoting direct involvement of a wide number of community and industry groups and individuals involved in recovery efforts.  Projects have included the collection of sightings data to the development of specific mitigation activities with industries or user groups that could affect right whales.   

The two areas in which North Atlantic right whales congregate in Canadian waters were designated as “Conservation Areas” by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 1993 - one in the Grand Manan Basin in the lower Bay of Fundy and one in Roseway Basin on the western Scotian Shelf.  The overall goal of this non-regulatory designation was to raise mariners’ awareness of North Atlantic right whales, e.g. included areas on relevant navigation charts. Thus far, the most significant conservation achievement in Canada has been the 2002 adoption by the International Maritime Organization and 2003 relocation of the Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme (shipping lanes) from an area with high right whale density into an area with lower right whale density.  This work led by external partners and supported by Transport Canada reduced the relative potential for accidental collisions by approximately 80%. This amendment was successfully implemented by Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard modifying navigational charts, notices to mariners, sailing directions and vessel traffic procedures.  In 2007, Transport Canada submitted another proposal to IMO for the designation for a recommendatory and seasonal Area to Be Avoided on Roseway Basin, south of Nova Scotia for all vessels of 300 gross tonnage and above. The Maritime Safety Committee of IMO adopted this measure in October 2007 as a Recommended Seasonal Area to be Avoided (ATBA; coordinates 43° 16’ N 064° 55’ W; 42° 47’ N 064° 59’ W; 42° 39’ N 065° 31’ W; 42° 52’ N 066° 05’ W) and it was implemented in May 2008. 

Outreach to marine vessel operators has been a high priority of the recovery team to reduce accidental collisions and disturbance to North Atlantic right whales, particularly in key habitat areas, i.e. Grand Manan and Roseway Basin. Inclusion in the Annual Notice to Mariners, Sailing Directions, educational brochures, wheelhouse placards, and seasonal Canadian Coast Guard whale alerts are aimed at achieving this goal.  The aim is to encourage them to avoid these areas if possible, and to provide guidance to the marine vessel community while in the presence of whales.

A Code of Ethics was established by a non-profit organization working with whale-watching operators to minimize the impact of this activity on right whales. All of the Bay of Fundy whale-watching companies have accepted the guidelines and work is ongoing to implement in all areas of the Bay of Fundy.  Whale watching and ecotourism operators throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec have adopted similar codes of ethics to reduce interactions with large whales, including right whales.    

A protocol has been established for releasing entangled whales from fishing gear.  There are a number of first responders in Canadian waters. In addition to the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station and other groups in Nova Scotia, the volunteer Campobello Whale Rescue Team responds to entanglements in Canadian waters (primarily the lower Bay of Fundy) and collaborates with US based rescue groups at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the New England Aquarium. 

In 2006, a relatively large number of right whales remained close to mainland southwest New Brunswick (SWNB) late into the fall.  Reactive management measures were worked out with the fishing associations, DFO, scientific interests and environmental groups involved to allow the lobster fishery in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFAs) 36 and 38 to proceed with reasonable protection for the whales.  At the same time, a voluntary Code of Conduct for those fishing near right whales was also developed.  In 2007, in conjunction with the same groups, the SWNB Area office developed a proactive Right Whale / Lobster Fishery Mitigation Strategy for these LFAs which provided guidelines for lobster harvesters to reduce the risk of interactions with right whales in the lobster fishing grounds. A 24-hour hotline was established at the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association to record and provide up-to-date information on the location of right whales. Furthermore, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Canada and DFO are currently working with the fishing industry in evaluating various options, including the testing a variety of alternative types of fishing gear, that may reduce the likelihood of whale entanglements.

A variety of efforts are underway in Maritimes Region that aim to provide an integrated, ecosystem based and collaborative ocean management framework.  These include the Southwest New Brunswick Marine Resources Planning initiative and the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management (ESSIM) initiative.  These efforts involve a variety of stakeholders and regulators and provide a planning forum in which to develop and implement ecosystem objectives and indicators to guide the management of a variety of activities, including those that affect the right whale.      

2.7.2.  Research

Researchers from the New England Aquarium (Boston MA) and their collaborators continue to survey for right whales each year in Canadian waters during August and September; in Grand Manan Basin in the lower Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin on the Scotian Shelf.  Regular boat-based surveys are occasionally supplemented by aerial surveys. The researchers monitor population size and calf survival, as well as collecting skin, blubber and faecal samples for use in studies on genetics, contaminants, hormones, and life history. 

Photographs taken during research and monitoring studies of right whales are used to identify individual whales based on unique markings.  Photographs from many studies are compiled and archived in an extensive photographic catalogue and database at the New England Aquarium.  The catalogue permits researchers to use these data to monitor life history parameters (births, deaths, reproductive success, habitat use patterns and abundance) and the rate of human-induced scarring on right whales.

Collaborative research projects underway at the St. Andrews Biological Station include an evaluation of response of right whales to vessel activity, the creation of an East Coast whale sightings database, and efforts to understand the distribution of right whales and their habitat in Canadian waters.  Whale identification training is provided to members of the marine industry; such as whale watch naturalists and other mariners working in the Bay of Fundy who voluntarily report sightings and to increase the amount of sighting data in the early and latter part of the season. It is thought that these stewardship programs may lead to the discovery of new areas of right whale activity in addition to the well known area in the Grand Manan Basin.  

DFO and Dalhousie University have a project underway designed to assess the risk of entanglement posed by fishing gear to right whales in the Bay of Fundy.  The analysis is investigating which fisheries and gear sectors pose the greatest risk to right whales. The results will be used to advise industry and fishery management on actions that would minimize the risk to right whales while at the same time attempting to minimize disruption of the commercial fisheries in the region.  In 2004-2005, WWF-Canada held meetings with industry representatives and produced a draft discussion paper exploring options for reducing entanglement.  These efforts by WWF-Canada have resumed in 2007 through support of HSP and other funders, with a focus on working with the fishing industry to develop and implement solutions which will reduce right whale entanglements.  WWF-Canada, in collaboration with oceanographic researchers at Dalhousie University have funded a post-doctoral fellow to conduct a quantitative analysis of right whale distribution and the risk of fishing activities in Canadian waters.  

Dalhousie University, together with several partners, is conducting an evaluation of vessel traffic and right whale strike probabilities along the coast of North America.  This effort compiles available time and space data related to both vessels and right whales in an effort to identify areas where risk of collisions is greatest and to determine the effectiveness of mitigation efforts, e.g. Roseway ATBA.  The results will support the investigation and development of future management strategies with the maritime user community. 

2.8. Allowable Activities

This Recovery Strategy is not using Subsection 83(4) of SARA to exempt persons from the prohibitions of SARA as they relate to this species.

2.9. Anticipated Conflicts or Challenges

While there has been significant progress in narrowing knowledge gaps in recent years, it is widely accepted that research efforts must continue and increase. A major challenge facing the recovery of right whales is the lack of knowledge about several important aspects of the species and how to reduce threats.  The need for consistent resources and a support network of partners with stable funding opportunities to address knowledge gaps, implement recovery strategies and respond to right whale emergencies is part of this challenge. Accordingly, areas where more information and resources are needed have been identified in this strategy. 

The migratory and pelagic habits of the species present a significant challenge to fully implement all recovery strategies. Recovery of the right whale will require significant international coordination and cooperation to reduce or remove the negative impacts of human activities across the species’ range.

Targeted studies and stewardship actions in the implementation phase of recovery are expected to yield a better understanding of what is needed to achieve a viable population (and hence recovery) of right whales in Atlantic waters. A long time scale for recovery must be considered in evaluating the ultimate success of recovery measures. In the absence of complete information, however, recovery actions are still possible and are promoted as key objectives in this strategy. Through an iterative and adaptive approach to recovery, new information will inform the development of further mitigation measures and strategies for recovery implementation.