Whale woes: Some recommendations for ships won't be easy to follow, says Oceanex head

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is asking ships to keep an eye out for right whales and go slower if possible, but Sid Hynes of Oceanex says following through on that recommendation would disrupt shipping schedules and "the impacts would be huge financially."

DFO wants ships to slow down, but Sid Hynes says finely tuned supply schedules will be disrupted

Capt. Sid Hynes says it would be difficult to reduce ship speeds through the Gulf - as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has requested as a safety option to protect right whales. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

As scientists continue to test the carcasses of the 10 right whales that have washed up on Atlantic Canada shorelines, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is asking ships to keep an eye out and go slower if possible.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc told a news conference Thursday in Moncton, N.B., that his department and Transport Canada have been working together to find ways to ensure the safety of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The impacts would be huge financially as well as directly because time is money.- Capt. Sid Hynes, executive chairman of Oceanex

"Every option to protect right whales is on the table," he said.

Preliminary reports from three necropsies have shown that collisions with ships may have contributed to the animals' deaths, so LeBlanc is asking that ships slow down as they make their way through the Gulf.

Ships have been asked to slow to 10 knots because scientists have determined that's the speed whales would have a higher chance of surviving an impact with ship.

Ships typically travel at 20 knots or faster. Ten knots is a recommendation and not a requirement.

Researchers from the Marine Animal Response Society examine one of the dead right whales. (Marine Animal Response Society)

Capt. Sid Hynes, executive chairman of Oceanex, a shipping company that transports goods through the Gulf to Newfoundland and Labrador, says reducing speed wouldn't be without consequence.

"If we were to do that, that's half-speed, which is double the time," he said.

"Seven-day service would become something much longer. The impacts would be huge financially as well as directly because time is money."

Food supply would be affected

The supply schedule with ships is so fine-tuned that any disruption would be noticeable at the grocery store, Hynes said. 

Oceanex ships transfer goods, including groceries, through the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Newfoundland, meaning any kind of schedule delay will be noticed on store shelves. (Photo courtesy Wes Pretty/MarineTraffic.com)

"If we don't show up here Monday morning, chances are what you thought you were going to have Monday evening, you won't," he said.

Oceanex has instructed captains to keep a close eye out during daylight hours. Mariners have also been asked to keep their depth-sounding gear running, so the ships make a lot of noise in the water and hopefully scare the whales out of their paths.

It's real strange because it's simple for a whale to get out of the way, they just dive.- Sid Hynes

Hynes said he and the Oceanex fleet are as baffled as everyone else about the right whale situation.

"Whales have been there for years, but we never heard of this before," he said.

"It's real strange because it's simple for a whale to get out of the way — they just dive."

Researchers unsure of cause

Scientists aren't ready to entirely blame ships and fishing gear, and are concerned that something else might be happening.

Kim Davies of Dalhousie University's Department of Oceanography told CBC earlier this week that researchers have been worried about the right whales in the area for years — long before these carcasses started washing up on the shores.

Officials investigating the discovery of a North Atlantic right whale found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in July. (Joey-john Stewart/Facebook)

They've been concerned there weren't as many calves and that perhaps the whales are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence because their food supplies in other areas aren't enough to sustain them, or that maybe another health factor is making them more susceptible to other stressors — like ships.

"So we can't rule out that there's some health factor that's contributing to these animals perhaps being more susceptible to dying if they are hit by ships," she said.