Viewpoint: COVID-19 saves right whales by sinking cruise ships 



By Jim O’Connell 

Canada created the Shediac ship restricted zone in April 2020 just a couple weeks before Holland America’s Zaandam was scheduled to sail through that zone on a shipping lane used only seasonally by cruise ships as a shortcut to Quebec City. 

However, a COVID-19 no-sail order in March 2020 superseded that restriction. 

Consequently, there was not one Canadian ship right whale strike death in two years and only one Canadian crab entanglement death, Cottontail, found off the U.S. Atlantic south coast in the spring of 2021. Canada also now does spot closures on crabbing in that same area when whales are spotted. So the three years known as the “unusual mortality event” will not happen again as long as Canada doesn’t look the other way when cruising recommences. 

In search of copepods, North American right whales established a feeding ground at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River starting in 2015 right under an established cruise ship only shortcut between Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Quebec City.  During this time, PEI was building a second multimillion dollar berthing pier to sell $3 stuffed whales made in China as souvenirs. The pier was completed in 2020. 

PEI port data and satellite ship tracking data clearly shows Carnival Cruise Line as the most likely cause of up to 21 dead whales between 2015 and 2019 – three in 2015, 10 in 2017, eight in 2019.  The causes of the three deaths in 2015 were called undetermined and never made the news.  

In 2017, the first two whales necropsied out of 12 dead that year were entanglements. This was widely publicized. The cry of extinction exploded and all the wildlife organizations, egged on by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the New England Aquarium, attracted all caring environmentalists to attack vertical line trap fishermen. The lobstermen were the obvious target.   

Only two necropsies were attributed to crab gear in this area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.   

Zero whales were killed by lobster gear. There has not been one death from lobster gear in the U.S. and only a couple in Canada in over 20 years but the Center for Biological Diversity, with no supporting data, claims the whales are going extinct based on lobster entanglements.  However, the actual scientific facts add up to a booming population of almost 900 whales. Only in the year 2017, when the Maasdam and Veendam cruise ships knocked off 10 whales during a temporary lull in the birthrate, did the population lose numbers.  Extinction is a myth narrated by NOAA administrators, who are directed by Secretary of Commerce  

Raimondo, a newly picked Cabinet member by President Joe Biden. 

In the summer of 2019, after burning much midnight oil tracking cruise ships on a live ship tracking app in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it became evident to me by overwhelming circumstantial evidence that cruise ships were responsible for almost all of the right whale deaths. I passed on my research on social media and to Patrick Keliher, commissioner of Maine Department of Marine Resources, who passed it on to Governor Mills. I also got help disseminating my information from Sara Gideon who reached out to Gov. Mills and members of the Maine Legislature, who have now acquired intervenor status. Now a verdict from a federal court in D.C. is awaited this spring or early summer on whether the lobstermen have been unfairly regulated. The lobstermen logically should win their case and be recompensed for a whole slew of arduous regulations. That is my hope.   

Jim O’Connell lives in Bar Harbor. 

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