New Brunswick

This Saint John author wanted to help protect right whales — so she wrote a book

Author Joann Hamilton-Barry knew absolutely nothing about North Atlantic right whales before the disastrous season of 2017, when 12 of the endangered mammals were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The book's release comes after deaths of 6 right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year

Author Joann Hamilton-Barry wanted to learn more about the North Atlantic right whale, so she decided to do some research and write a book to educate herself and others. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Author Joann Hamilton-Barry knew absolutely nothing about North Atlantic right whales before the disastrous season of 2017, when 12 of the endangered mammals were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

That prompted her to get educated — and she learned enough to fill a book. 

Hamilton-Barry's new book, North Atlantic Right Whale: Past, Present and Future is being released as yet more right whales are being found dead in the gulf. Three are known to have been killed by blunt force trauma from ship strikes. 

Hamilton-Barry, director of the Saint John Free Public Library, said after no deaths in 2018, many observers and experts were hopeful things were improving for the endangered species. 

"Now it's just back to that devastation of the population," she said.  

When she started her research in 2017, one of the first things she learned was the reason why they are called right whales. 

"It's because they were considered to be the right or correct whale to kill. They're large, they swim slow at the surface and close to shore." 

This made hunting for early whalers easy, Hamilton-Barry said. 

Making money off right whales

The right whales were also worth a lot of money because of the large amount of blubber and baleen. 

"And because of all that blubber, a right whale floats when it's dead so it could be towed to shore for butchering."

While right whales had a large population at one point, they were hunted to near extinction. In 1935, there were only 100 right whales left when the commercial hunting of that species was banned.

Joann Hamilton-Barry will launch her new book, The North Atlantic Right Whale: Past, Present, and Future at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John on July 11. (Nimbus Publishing )

"The population has rebounded a little bit but it's not looking very good right now." 

With only an estimated 400 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, Hamilton-Berry said statistics indicate the species could be wiped out by 2040 — unless something changes. 

"It's human activity that are still causing the whales to die. Ship strikes, entanglement, pollution, climate change, all of those things," she said. 

Whales considered tough and resilient

Since early June, six North Atlantic right whales have died in Canadian waters. (Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

Hamilton-Barry said right whales are tough and resilient creatures that just need to be given the space to thrive. 

The author wrote the book because many people don't know that much about them. 

"I did it so people would have an accessible book with lots of pictures that would help them learn about this endangered species," she said. 

New measures being implemented to protect the whales including, slower ship speeds and changes to fishing gear, could improve their chance of survival, said Hamilton-Barry.

Her book will be launched at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John on July 11. She will also be at the Grand Manan Museum on July 12.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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