SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Although their species still teeters on the brink of extinction, a record number of right whale calves have been found in winter nursery waters off the coast of the southeastern United States.


Moira Brown, a Canadian expert on right whales and a senior scientist with the New England Aquarium in Boston, said the find is extremely encouraging for a still endangered population that numbers approximately 400 animals.


The discovery of the 38 calves comes as Irving Oil Corp. announced it will renew its sponsorship of the New England Aquarium’s right whale research team, with a financial contribution of $50,000 this year.


Irving has donated more than $400,000 to the team over the past 11 years through annual contributions. Discussions between Brown and Irving officials led to the 2003 decision to shift shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy to protect the right whales.

“Back when I presented this issue to Irving and their colleagues in the Maritimes, some of the questions centred around if we move the shipping lanes, would the population recover,” Brown said.

“I can’t say if that has been the case or not, but it is so important in the long term because it really does get the shipping traffic out of the areas with the highest concentrations of whales.”

In 2003, Canadian and international shipping officials agreed to move shipping lanes in the bay between Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, about four nautical miles east in an effort to reduce the risk of ship strikes.

This relatively small shift in lanes is believed to have reduced the risk of accidental collisions between right whales and ships by as much as 90 per cent in the Bay of Fundy.

The last record year for right whale births was 2001 when there were 31 caves born. Twenty calves have been born each year, on average, since that date.