Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 19, 2012 - 10:59 am

DFO worried Mary River shipping could kill many whales

“The model may have generated the worst-case scenario”

SAMANTHA DAWSON
A Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. panel waits to make a presentation to the Nunavut Impact Review Board July 18 at final public hearings inside Iqaluit's cadet hall. (PHOTO BY SAMANTHA DAWSON)
A Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. panel waits to make a presentation to the Nunavut Impact Review Board July 18 at final public hearings inside Iqaluit's cadet hall. (PHOTO BY SAMANTHA DAWSON)

Up to five bowheads, 40 narwhals and 14 belugas could be struck and killed each year by ships transporting iron ore to Europe from Steensby Inlet, Derrick Moggy, of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the Nunavut Impact Review Board July 18.

Because of numbers such as this, DFO recommends Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. do more studies on whale behaviour.

“The marine mammals that would be exposed to the proposed project are industrially naive,” Moggy said, adding that it’s not known how they will respond to shipping noise, and whether or not they would swim away.

“The model may have generated the worst-case scenario,” Moggy said.

Still, ship strikes have the potential to become a big problem, he said.

With marine mammals like whales, the DFO also said a detailed monitoring plan is needed to watch how whales react to ships.

The surveillance monitoring idea that Baffinland proposes in its environmental impact statement is insufficient and ineffective, Moggy told the board.

Trained “marine mammal observers” on board ships is not adequate, given the distances over which they must detect animals, he said.

DFO also recommended that Baffinland update its emergency response and spill contingency plan.

However, DFO supports the proposed marine working group even though they remain “concerned that many issues identified at this hearing are being deferred to this group.” 

These issues can be dealt instead with in the regulatory phase, Moggy said.

“Clearly, there are still challenges,” he said, the biggest of them being acquiring baseline data before construction and shipping begin.

Brad Armstrong, Baffinland’s lawyer, asked DFO to confirm that the corporation had been making progress. DFO agreed.

“Yes, we can acknowledge that progress is being made,” Moggy said.

When it came to the model outlining how many whales could be struck by ore-carrying ships from Steensby Inlet, Armstrong asked DFO if the model was a “basic calculation.”

DFO is “fundamentally over-estimating and exaggerating the number of whales being struck,” Armstrong said.

The department recommended a better plan to monitor ballast water, a risk assessment of non-native species that could impact marine life in Steensby Inlet, and an appropriate aquatic monitoring program.

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