Volume 7, No. 2

Promoting Cooperation to Maintain and Enhance
Environmental Quality in the Gulf of Maine

Summer 2003
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Online NGO directory

In June, the Gulf of Maine Council will launch its Gulf of Maine NGO Directory, an online, searchable directory of more than 600 non-government organizations serving marine and watershed issues in the Gulf of Maine. The first of its kind for this region, the directory allows users to find and contact organizations by watershed, jurisdiction, issue, staff or publications and offers several data output options.

After the initial database was compiled in 2001, the Council worked with a group of regional managers and environmental professionals to develop a set of needs and potential uses for the data. The results of this process were turned over to Web database programmers and graphic designers who built the search interfaces and results pages, as well as the rest of the revised Web site.

The Council has a small budget to maintain the data, but will depend in large part on participant's self-maintenance of their records. "This is a community tool whose regular use should encourage regular maintenance," said David Keeley of the Maine State Planning office who has spearheaded this effort since the idea was first proposed three years ago. Organizations can add themselves to the directory, edit their existing records and search for others anywhere in the Gulf of Maine. The directory will be available at http://www.gulfofmaine.org/ngo_directory/.
–Kent Curtis

Right whale gets lassoed

It is a sunny and calm March day in inner Marion Harbor, Massachusetts; a perfect day for catching a whale. Not a real whale, of course, but a life-sized fiberglass model of the North Atlantic right whale tail. The model looks amazingly realistic. So realistic that local residents have called the town's police department. Charlie Bradley, the Marion harbormaster, pulls alongside our boat. "The phones are ringing off the hook at the police station," he calls out. "People think we got a sick whale in the harbor."

Onboard, Becky Woodward from the University of Maine targets the tail model to test her net gun system as a possible restraining device for the endangered whales. The gun was adapted from a device used to capture land animals like moose and deer. The net is propelled by a .308 blank cartridge and encircles the flukes. Ideally, the net gun should be fired about 40 feet from the tail. When fully opened, its trapezoid-shape spans 20 feet across on the top, 14 feet long along the sides, and ten feet across along the bottom. Woodward is a doctoral candidate studying the biomechanics of whales, but she used to work on a ranch in Montana, which may help explain why she is so adept at lassoing whale tails.

Whale researchers are experimenting with techniques such as lassoing to restrain entangled whales.
Photo: Stormy Mayo

"It's sort of like trying to lasso a bull's horns," she says. At first, Woodward captured the whale tail one out of four times, but by mounting the gun on a solid boom with adjustable pan and tilt, the trials were more successful and repeatable.

Dr. Paul Brodie, a research scientist and sculptor from Halifax, Nova Scotia, created the right whale tail. The idea of testing restraining techniques grew out of a 2001 workshop funded by the Northeast Consortium. Hosted by researcher Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the original goal of the workshop was to design a remotely operated robotic device that can "walk" across the surface of a whale's body or entangling ropes, cutting the lines and freeing the animal. But before disentanglement teams can even think about innovative methods of cutting embedded ropes, they must first be able to restrain the whale.

Today Moore and Stormy Mayo, of the Center for Coastal Studies, look on as Woodward tests the net gun prototype. Mayo knows all too well the extreme dangers of approaching a distressed whale. Their "power is not to be believed," he says. He recalls a disentanglement effort where a right whale towed a 40-foot boat in reverse (connected to an inflatable vessel and a float) at about five knots.

The tail is modeled after the late right whale, Delilah, who died from a collision with a ship and washed up on Grand Manan Island in 1992. "She was an old friend of mine," recalls Mayo wistfully. "She gave me more data on feeding ecology." Mayo spends much of his time studying the relationship between whales and their food resource: zooplankton. As the only person officially licensed to remove entangled lines on right whales, Mayo's appraisal of the net gun trials is paramount.
He watches Woodward's efforts intently, adding, "I believe this could work." But he warns that every entangled animal requires a different strategy, and "it's important to think of this as one of many tools." While disentanglement efforts continue to improve, Mayo stresses that disentanglement is not a solution and that more attention should be spent on the sources of entanglements.

Submitted by Rebecca Love, an oceanographer and project coordinator for the Northeast Consortium. The consortium encourages cooperative research and development of selective fishing gear technology among commercial fishermen, researchers and other stakeholders. The initiative is fostered by four research institutions: the University of New Hampshire, University of Maine, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
To learn more please visit http://www.NortheastConsortium.org.

Center to highlight Gulf of Maine seabirds

As a grouping of birds, the term "seabird" is broad. Within the Gulf of Maine, seabirds include storm-petrels, cormorants, gulls, terns, murres, razorbills, guillemots and puffins. While cormorants, gulls, some terns and guillemots are readily observed from shore, the others fall in the realm of pelagic birds, only coming to shore to breed. Then it is generally the lesser accessible outer islands, where the best viewing opportunities require a boat trip. Enter the Maine Seabird Center.

Currently, the Center is a joint concept of Maine Audubon, National Audubon Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Realizing each had a vision for seabird conservation, they acknowledged they would be more effective working together than independently. According to Brian Benedict, deputy refuge manager for Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge, the three organizations agreed to a single center, located somewhere on the shores of mid-coast Maine, which will be accessible to all people.

National Audubon Society's Dr. Steven Kress described the unique Maine Seabird Center. Whereas most public education centers adjoin a study area or preserve, this one will be "20 miles away," on Maine's outer islands. The Center will serve as a home for seabird research. It will also be open to the public with educational exhibits explaining seabird ecology. Plans also include live streaming video from remote cameras on the seabird islands so that visitors can watch the birds.

There is still a lot of work to do before the Maine Seabird Center can break ground. Maine Audubon is beginning a feasibility study to gauge public support. Pending a favorable outcome of this study, fundraising efforts will have to begin in earnest. Vision and mission statements need to be developed to serve as a guide for the Center. And once potential sites are determined, environmental impact statements will need to be completed.

For more information on the evolution of the Maine Seabird Center, contact Brian Benedict at (207) 236-6970.
– Rich MacDonald

Anthropologist explores lobster management

When Jim Acheson was preparing to write his classic book, The Lobster Gangs of Maine (1988, University of New England Press), he spent a year living in a lobstering community. For several days, he lived with a family to observe their daily routine. He spent days on the docks and at sea talking with lobstermen and documenting their work habits.

Now, Acheson, University of Maine professor of anthropology and marine sciences, has turned his analysis of the lobster industry to the practice and theory of natural resource management in his new book, Capturing the Commons: Devising Institutions to Manage the Maine Lobster Industry. Also published by University of New England Press, Capturing the Commons discusses steps taken by the industry to develop formal and informal management rules. For this purpose, he continued to listen to lobstermen, but he has shifted the primary focus of his research from the docks to the meetings of regional lobster management zone councils as well as state and federal fishery agencies. The result is a look at the politics of Maine's most famous crustacean.

At the heart of Capturing the Commons is an analysis of the zone councils as the latest step in more than a century of harvest management efforts. The lobster zone management system is one of the first efforts in the world to allow fishermen to exercise meaningful responsibility for the rules that govern a commercial fishery. The book is available from the University Press of New England, http://www.upne.org.