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Concerns about Whales and Seals relative to the Passage of LNG Tankers

and other Large Vessels into Passamaquoddy Bay

Arthur MacKay
5474 Rte 127, Bocabec, NB, Canada

Originally submitted to US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

April 17, 2006, Modified November 3, 2010

1. Introduction:

For millions of years, the North Atlantic Ocean has been home to right whales. In winter months, they
gave birth to calves off the shores of West Africa in the eastern Atlantic and off Florida and Georgia in
the western Atlantic. In the spring, they migrated north along the coasts as far as the Gulf of St.
Lawrence and the seas north of Iceland to feed in plankton-rich northern waters in summer and fall.

In 1150 King Sancho the Wise granted privileges to Navarre, a Basque province in northern Spain, to
charge a duty on whalebone. So began centuries of whale hunting in which tens of thousands of right
whales on both sides of the Atlantic were killed.

Today only a remnant of the population survives, no more than 350 whales clustered in calving and
feeding grounds along the eastern seaboard of North America. Only occasional right whale sightings
in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or in the waters between Iceland, Greenland, and Norway give echoes of
their once substantially greater range. (M. Moore, online)

With the productivity and richness of feed in the Head Harbour Passage, it is likely that Right Whales
frequented these waters where they were hunted well before the French settlement was established at
St. Croix Island in 1604. Indeed, local divers speak of baleen embedded in the silt of some of the local
harbours and red roofing tiles and other artifacts are occasionally found that speak to an earlier history.

Today, the Bay of Fundy is the vital summer ground for the remaining Northern Right Whale. While
they occur throughout the Quoddy Region including Head Harbour Passage and Friars Roads, they are
principally found off Grand Manan in an area designated as a Right Whales Sanctuary. They are also
commonly found basking on the surface between the Wolves Islands and Campobello as well as in
Grand Manan Channel. There is little doubt that Right Whales are the “Poster Whale” of the Cetacean

Unfortunately, the experts argue about the importance of Head Harbour Passage to Right Whales and,
in the process completely miss the point when assessing the potential impact of increased shipping by
large LNG tankers and other large ships. While Head Harbour Passage is historic Right Whale habitat
and during the period before 1980 they were commonly found there, today Head Harbour Passage,
Friars Bay, Western Passage, and the lower St. Croix Estuary are all important habitat for other whales
and seals, some of which are listed as endangered in the United States and “species of concern” in
2. Distribution and Status of Whales and Seals in the Quoddy Region

While there are a number of cetacean species that are occasional visitors to the Quoddy Region, 7
cetaceans and 2 seals occur there commonly as shown in Table 1. Three species, Right Whale,
Humpback Whale and Fin Whale, are listed as endangered species in the United States. In Canada, The
Right Whale is considered endangered, the Finback Whale and Harbour Porpoise are listed as a
“species of concern”. The Killer Whale is “data deficient” and the status is undecided.

It is important to note that 2 endangered species, Right whale and Finback Whale, actually occur deep
into Head Harbour Passage, Friar Roads and Western Passage. The Harbour Porpoise, a species of
concern, occurs from Outer Quoddy all the way through Head Harbour Passage, Friar Roads, Western
Passage, Passamaquoddy Bay, and St. Croix Estuary. This fact will need to be addressed by the

The status of Canadian waters bears upon the significance of these designation. As we interpret the act,
under the US Marine Mammal Act, United States citizens are bound by the act in foreign “territorial”
waters. If on the other hand, Canadian Quoddy waters are internal waters as the Canadian government
insists, then both countries are bound by various agreements that speak to the “environmental” and
“habitat” obligations under treaties such as NAFTA, GATT, and UNCLOS. Clearly there are
obligations on the part of shipping interests when they enter the Quoddy Area and the Passages into
Passamaquoddy Bay and the St. Croix Estuary where “endangered” species and “species of concern”

Table 1. Distribution and status of whales and seals in the Quoddy Region. (US = United States, Ca = Canada, OQ = Outer
Quoddy Region, HH = Head Harbour Passage, FR = Friars Roads, WP = Western Passage, PB = Passamaquoddy Bay, SCE
= St. Croix Estuary, E = Endangered, SC = Species of Concern, DD = Data Deficient, x = occurs.

Species Status Occurrence

Right Whale E E X X X X - -
(Eubalaena glacialis)
Humpback Whale E - X X - - - -
(Megaptera novaeangliae)
Finback Whale E SC X X X X - -
(Balaenoptera physalus)
Minke Whale - - X X X X X X
(Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena - SC X X X X X X
White-sided Dolphin - - X - - - - -
Species Status Occurrence
(Lagenorphynchus acutus)
Killer Whale - DD X - - - - -
(Orcinus orca)
Harbour Seal - - X X X X X X
(Phoca vitulina)
Grey Seal - - X X X X X X
Halichoerus grypus

3. Concerns Related to Resident Whales and Seals

For Whales and Seals, concerns fall into the following categories:

1. Ship Strikes. Ship strikes are the principal cause of death for Right whales and other whale
species are subject to injuries and death from ship strikes as well. This is a simple risk analysis
where an increase in ship traffic will result in an increase in ship strikes and consequent
mortalities. The proposed LNG terminals will result in an additional 360 passages in addition to
about 200 ship passages from traditional coastal freighter traffic. This represents over 150%
increase in traffic with a consequence increase in risk. All proponents indicate potential
increases in ship traffic in the future. Increases in ship strikes will be anticipated in Outer
Quoddy and Head Harbour Passage.
2. Physical Disruptions. Risks will rise in Head Harbour Passage in particular where Finback
Whales may be forced into the Passage. If they panic under these circumstances, they may well
run ashore, lose contact with their calf, or leave the area entirely, impacting the whale watching
3. Disruption of food supply. The Head Harbour mouth and passage are vital feeding areas for all
of the species that are considered here. Should frequent, disruptive passages force whales to
leave this vital area, there may be competitive feeding consequences as yet not fully understood.
More particularly, the LNG proponents have written about the placement of lights along the
Campobello shore. While this might aid navigation, it is clearly understood that this will very
likely eliminate the herring weir fishery there since herring avoid light. Mammals that depend
on these night incursions of herring, mackerel, silver sides, and other forage species will be
unable to meet their needs. In addition the impact on the herring fishery will be catastrophic.
4. Disruption of social behaviour and communications. Knowledge is growing about the
disruptive effects of submarine noise and vibration. The mouth of Head Harbour Passage and
the surrounding area is vital to Harbour Porpoise mothers and calves. It is unknown what the
effect of these large vessels and the associated highly powered tugs will be, particularly in the
passage where sound will bounce off the rock walls of the passage. There is fear that
echolocation and communications might be affected.

4. Information Gaps and Essential Research Requirements

1. Impacts of sound. While there has been much research done relative to distribution patterns
and entanglement techniques, to our knowledge there have been no sound studies done in the
Quoddy / Head Harbour Passage area. Such studies would seem to be essential.
2. Diurnal Behaviour. The nighttime incursion of the big whales has always been essential to the
success of fishermen tending weirs in Head Harbour Passage and West Isles. Following the
huge schools of herring that head inshore after nightfall, the whales rush through the fish
forcing them toward the shores where the weirs are waiting to capture them. Such activity has
been reported all the way from the mouth of Head Harbour Passage and into Passamaquoddy
Bay. We have no detailed data on this phenomenon and research is required.

5. References

Buzeta, M-I, J. Davies, M. Janowicz, D.R. Duggan, D. Campbell, and R. Singh. Integrated Marine
Planning in the Coastal Zone of Southwest New Brunswick. Can. Man. Rpt of Fish. Aqua. Sci.
2682. 2003.

Buzeta, M-I, R. Singh, S. Young-Lai. Identification of Significant Marine and Coastal Areas in the
Bay of Fundy. Can. Man. Rpt of Fish. Aqua. Sci. 2635. 2003.

Chang, B.D, F.H. Page, B.W.H. Hill. Preliminary Analysis of Coastal Marine Resource Use and the
Development of Open Ocean Aquaculture in the Bay of Fundy. Can. Tech. Rpt of Fish.Aqua.Sci.

Hunter & Associates. Coastal Zone Management Study Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick. Mineral
Resources Branch, Dept.of Natural Resources, 1982.

MacKay, A.A. Bay of Fundy Resource Inventory- Deer Island, Campobello Island. Marine Research
Associates, Deer Island, NB. 1978.

MacKay, A.A. Bay of Fundy Resource Inventory – Grand Manan Archipelago. Marine Research Associates,
Deer Island, NB. 1978

MacKay, A.A. Bay of Fundy Resource Inventory – St. Croix River, Passamaquoddy Bay. Marine Research
Associates, Deer Island, NB. 1978

MacKay, A.A. A Zoogeographical Study of the Mammals of the Grand Manan Archipelago. N.B. unpubl.
man., l 964.

Michael Moore. Whither the North Atlantic Right Whale? Scientists explore many facets of whales'
lives to help species on the edge of extinction. Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution. 2005. Online at http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=2482
Thomas, Martin L.H., Editor. Marine and Coastal Systems of the Quoddy Region, New Brunswick.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ottawa, 1983