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More North Atlantic right whales spotted in gulf, few in shallow waters

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Research shows North Atlantic right whales are visiting the Gulf of St. Lawrence in greater numbers but are more likely to encounter fishing gear in deep waters — a finding that may have implications for next season’s lobster and crab fishery restrictions in New Brunswick.

In a technical briefing hosted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada, scientists presented what they learned from a peer-review last week of research done over the past three years.

The meeting brought together 40 scientists and academics to discuss right whale distribution and whether the endangered mammals can find a safe habitat in Canadian waters.

Entanglement with fishing gear and strikes by ships have been identified as leading threats to the endangered whales.

A North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. early in 2018. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

Garry Stenson, chair of the meeting, said one of the key pieces of information comes from tracking whales using acoustic listening devices and drones.

About half the remaining North Atlantic right whales visited the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer, or 190 out of a total 411 whales.  

And of those whales in the gulf, almost all preferred water deeper than 50 metres.

“Very few right whales are found in those shallow waters,” he said. “Only one was found in waters less than 50 metres … Presence of prey is also rare there.”  

Stop-and-go fisheries

Lobster are typically most abundant in cold water at around 50 metres deep, while snow crabs are found at varying depths — from 50 to 600 metres deep.

This year’s snow crab and lobster seasons in the gulf and Bay of Fundy were stop-and-go because of closures implemented by the Department of Fisheries to protect right whales. The closures were a response to the deaths of 12 endangered whales in Canadian waters in 2017.

Over the summer, fishermen complained the closures hurt.

According to the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, a 15-day fishery shutdown caused by a right whale sighting cost the industry millions of dollars and affected the final income for many workers.

Until North Atlantic right whales started dying in frightening numbers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there was little talk of the lucrative snow crab fishery off New Brunswick. (Submitted by Nicole Boudreau)

The Fisheries Department also implemented speed restrictions on cargo ships because of the increased whale population in the southwestern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

These measures may be the reason why there have been no reported right whale deaths in Canada this year and fewer entanglements.

But there have been three reported right whale deaths in the United States, and no recorded births anywhere.

Increased numbers

Scientists don’t know why more whales have been moving to the gulf from the Bay of Fundy and nearby Roseway Basin,  but it may be because their food is moving north as the water warms, Stenson said.

“There’s clear evidence now to suggest that yes, there was an increase in number of whales starting from 2015,” he said. “There were whales present earlier … but they were quite rare.”

Scientists gathered their findings from simulations.

“Virtual whales,” with behaviour based on observed right whale behaviour, were more likely to encounter fishing gear in deeper waters, he said.

“If there’s a lot of fishing gear in the southwest Gulf of St. Lawrence, there’s potential of interaction,” he said.

The Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association wants to reduce the amount of rope used in lobster fishing in an effort to eliminate whale entanglements. (Centre for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

But that doesn’t mean that there will be an entanglement, he said.

“An encounter is not an entrapment.”

Does that mean the restrictions on crab fisheries this season were effective? Stenson said the restricted area in 2018 seemed to cover “most of the places where fishing gear and right whales might overlap.”

As to what impact this research will have on government policy, Stenson said a “post-mortem” of the peer-review meeting will be done in January, and the group will compile a report with more detailed findings and recommendations that may help guide public policy.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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