From The Daily Gleaner: Sept 7, 2011

Two researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico say in a report that the Bay of Fundy and other waters on the East Coast are among nine regions in the world where marine life needs to be protected. Photo : Courtesy N.B. Images

Tuesday September 6th, 2011. The waters around New Brunswick and along the northeast American coastline have been cited in a new study as being among the top nine marine areas in the world that merit protection.

The study criteria looked at how many marine mammal species were there, how rare they were, and how at risk they were from human influence.

While 20 sites were highlighted worldwide, the report’s authors determined that, by preserving just 2.5 per cent of the ocean, they could protect the vast majority of marine mammal species.

“We’re in a very important species extinction crisis,” researcher Gerardo Ceballos said in a telephone interview. Like all the hotspots, Eastern Canada is at a medium to high level of dangerous human impact, Ceballos said. He and Sandra Pompa Mansilla, both of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, were co-authors of the report.

They worked on the study for four years with a fellow researcher at Stanford University and published the paper last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The key sites seem to be concentrated in upwelling oceanic areas, where cold currents meet warm ones. These often produce good feeding grounds for marine mammals.

Southern New Brunswick, which is known for its active whale-watching industry, serves as the summer home of the right whale, an endangered species which was pinpointed by the scientists as one of the animals of particular concern. Other species that frequent the Fundy area are the minke whale, humpback whale, finback whale and white-beaked dolphins. Although they are known to visit, it’s considered rare to see a blue whale, sperm whale, killer whale, or beluga whale.

Marine mammals provide some of the best-known cases of population and species extinction through over-exploitation, the study states.

For the North Atlantic, the study lists the whale-watching industry, toxic waste dumping and vessel collisions with whales as the most dangerous threats to the rich marine population in the North Atlantic.

The researchers are the first to combine various habitat maps of marine mammals around the world in an all-inclusive map showing the hotspots, Mansilla said from her university office in Mexico.

But Ceballos said their study “is a guideline for some of the most important places … but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the areas shouldn’t be taken into account.”

The other sites are located off the coasts of Baja California in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Of the 129 species of marine mammals on Earth, including seals, dolphins and polar bears, approximately one-quarter are facing extinction, the study said. Their status ranges from being vulnerable to critically endangered.