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New computer program promises to save the whales
Date:10/11/2011

Researchers at the University of Montreal have developed a computer programme that enables regulators to evaluate the ecological and economic tradeoffs between marine mammal conservation, whale watching and marine transportation activities in the Saint Lawrence Estuary. "The objective is to reduce the collision risk with whales while taking into account the impact on industry and marine transportation," said Lael Parrott, who headed the research team. The model, developed in her Complex Systems Laboratory, maps the estuary where the field research was undertaken, simulates the comings and goings of five mammal species (minke whale, fin whale, beluga, humpback and blue whale), the presence and movements of three types of boats (recreation, excursion and cargo), and environmental conditions. Nine scenarios were elaborated in order to observe the effects of various decisions.

The system was developed following a request from Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It is based on real conditions observed in the estuary since 1994 and takes into account human behaviors based on interviews with captains and shipping pilots.

Environmental Context

In 1998, the majority of the Saguenay Fjord in Quebec and a part of the St. Lawrence Estuary at the junction of the Saguenay River were given the status of marine park to protect the exceptional biological diversity of this area where fresh and salt water meet.

In all, no less than 13 species of marine mammals rely on these waters for food and almost half are endangered. More than 10,000 boat excursions occur every year to see the thousand or so fin, minke, beluga, humpback and blue whales that swim the waters. 5,000 cargo ships also cross the marine park annually en route to the St-Lawrence Seaway.

In 2002, the park adopted a series of norms and regulations to limit the speed of excursion boats, the distance between boats and whales, and the maximum amount of time a whal
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Contact: William Raillant-Clark
w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca
514-343-7593
University of Montreal
Source:Eurekalert  

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