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Only 411 North Atlantic right whales left, says new report

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A new report says there are just 411 North Atlantic right whales left of the rapidly declining species, in what scientists are calling a “significant drop” in the population.

On Friday, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium released its 2018 report card for the endangered whales, which lists fishing-gear entanglements and whale strikes as the leading cause of death for these animals.

“It’s not only sad but it’s kind of tragic — and heartbreaking,” Philip Hamilton, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium and co-author of the report, said Monday.

He said the drop from 451 to 411 in just a year is “a big drop for a small population.”

“This is a relatively slow producing species,” Hamilton said “If you lost 40 whales in one year, and there are 400 left, that gives you 10 years if you keep that trajectory.”

But these numbers don’t include the three documented deaths so far in 2018, as the population estimates are done for the previous year once the data can be analyzed.

“One thing that remains pretty clear in the data is that for every whale you see dead on the beach, or floating at sea, there have been two more deaths of that species,” said Scott Kraus, vice-president at the New England Aquarium and the chair-elect for the right whale consortium.

“In other words, we’re only detecting about a third of the deaths in the population. So when we see three in the United States, it means probably a total of nine died.”

This North Atlantic right whale was freed from fishing lines in the Bay of Fundy near Campobello Island in 2017. (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

But the decrease in population is also because for the first time in the 38 years these whales have been monitored, no new calves were born.

The report said that there were 71 breeding females in 2017, down from 105 in 2015. The report also said that entanglements with fishing gear have a big impact on the females — and within three years of a severe entanglement, only about 33 per cent of females survive.

“Those that are able to break free and survive the initial entanglement, they bear scars and wounds that seem to be impacting their ability to reproduce,” Hamilton said. “They either delay or cease reproduction depending on the severity of the wounds from their entanglements.”

But another reason the whales aren’t reproducing is because of climate change. As whales move further away in search of food, Kraus said the animals are using more energy than they’re getting through food — and female whales need to have adequate reserves to carry a calf. 

“In that context, if they take a few years off from having babies, it’s not such a big deal. They can recover from that. But in a population like this though, for them to survive going through several years of not having many kids, we have to stop killing them. That’s the simple answer,” Kraus said.

“Anytime you get below 500 animals in a population, you’re in deep trouble,” said Scott Kraus. (Pat Foster/Adrian Colaprete)

In the last year, Canada implemented new measures to try to protect the right whale, after 12 right whales were reported dead in Canadian waters in 2017, along with another five in U.S. waters.

The report points out that while there haven’t been any deaths in Canadian waters this year, there were still three reported entanglements. One of the U.S. entanglement deaths was caused by Canadian snow crab gear.

But the changes in Canadian waters, which included reducing vessel speeds and temporary fisheries closures when a right whale was spotted, are something both Hamilton and Kraus said were effective.

“That’s moving in the right direction. The question is whether or not that is sustainable,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said increasing the size of protected areas and trying to remove fishing lines from the water column are some of the big next steps to keeping the species alive.

“The silver lining that I see in the current trajectory is that people will actually realize that we cannot sustain this. It’s going to take really big changes in how we fish and how we ship,” Hamilton said.

“And that’s possible. So hopefully the direness of the situation will be the one thing that saves them.”

In 2017, 12 right whales were confirmed dead in Canadian waters. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Kraus, too, said the whales can recover from very low numbers

“I do feel optimistic about it largely because many of the shipping and fishing industry groups have really bought on to the idea that they need to change practices to figure out how to co-exist with right whales,” he said.

“So it may take us a few years, but I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be able to keep guys fishing, keep the shipping going and not kill whales at the same time.”

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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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