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Rare Whale Monitoriting In New York Falls Victim To Recession

MICHAEL VIRTANEN   03/15/09 06:40 PM ET   AP

Right Whales

ALBANY, N.Y. — Monitoring for endangered right whales off New York harbor is ending because the project has lost funding in the state's current budget crunch.

Acoustic monitoring by Cornell scientists shows the rare right whales swimming off the harbor, where federal officials have recently lowered ship speed limits to help protect the slow-moving mammals during migrations from Florida to New England and Canada.

Monitors that have recorded the whales' calls south of Long Island for a year are not being replaced, scientists said.

"We just brought them in last week," said Chris Clark, director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "We ran out of money. We had to stop the process for right now."

Biologists estimate 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, having been fished to commercial extinction a century ago and vulnerable now to ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear.

The whales generally migrate south in November and December to calving grounds, and return north in February through April to feeding grounds.

"They're running a gauntlet twice a year for months at a time," Clark said. "That's the train wreck, and nobody's paid any attention to New York very much at all. There are a lot of efforts going on in New England, and a lot of efforts in Georgia and Florida."

New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has supported the project, which began in spring 2008.

But Gov. David Paterson has ordered spending cuts from the DEC and other state agencies as New York faces an estimated $14 billion budget deficit in the fiscal year that starts April 1.

Right whales can reach 50 feet and 70 tons, are often found in coastal waters, and with about 40 percent blubber tend to stay near the surface, which made them easy prey for whalers.

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On the Net:

http://www.listenforwhales.org/

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Filed by Dave Burdick  |