Friday, October 30, 2009

There is hope

After viewing the gripping images of Chris Jordan,, of albatross chicks dying on Midway Island because they parents feed them plastic caps, lighters, etc. mistaking them for fish or something edible, it is hard to feel positive about the future of the oceans. However, when I opened a letter today from a mother living in New Hampshire, I see a glimmer of hope.

A family visited Grand Manan this summer, had a wonderful time and plan to return again. Obviously their visit to Grand Manan had a lot of meaning because their daughter upon arriving home decided that she didn't need any birthday presents and wanted her friends to bring money instead so she could use it to help save right whales. Needless to say her mother was very proud of her daughter as am I as well.

How old is this child? Seven years old and this is not the first time someone this young has decided that gifts can be used to help others and don't have to be things that you may want but probably don't need. We had a six year old girl last year do the same thing - give up presents so she could help right whales. This is the best kind of "regifting" that I know of and after looking at images of masses of products that are discarded daily, perhaps donating to your favourite cause may be the better way for give some relief to the strain we are putting on the oceans and all that make it their home.

Right whales gone from the Bay of Fundy?

On October 28 we did an aerial survey of the Grand Manan Basin where right whales are typically found. I had been out on October 25 by boat covering a small portion of this area as well. On both days, no right whales were seen, even though 20-25 were present close to Grand Manan (approximately 8 to 10 nautical miles) on October 20. That is how quickly things can change. We did see four fin whales and three humpback whales from the plane and three fin whales and three humpbacks from the boat, the latter in a totally different area. One of the humpbacks seen from the air was breaching - the splash is even more impressive from the air, and another was tail lobbing but they were separated by a couple of miles. It is hard not to make the relationship that these whales were possibly communicating with each other by making loud noises.

We have had a lot of wind in the last few weeks which can disperse the zooplankton patches. Right whales have also been showing up in the middle to lower part of the Gulf of Maine so perhaps the whales have started to move to their winter haunts. Aerial surveys will continue for a few more weeks, always dependent on the weather. Strong winds create lots of white caps which makes it more difficult to see whale blows or spouts and also cause a bigger distraction since the search image for a whale from the air is fleeting with little time to make a judgement on whether it is a wave or a whale.

Last year there were right whale remaining into December and some were even seen the end of January but every year is different and the distribution of right whales this summer was definitely not the "norm" which probably reflected a more scattered distribution of zooplankton.

Right whales do sometimes return after leaving the Bay. Their meanderings seem to be part of their lives with sometimes no where in particular to go but a huge ocean to explore, stopping to feed where ever they find dense enough patches of zooplankton.

Silt and her calf

On September 19, I was thrilled to see Silt (#1812) and her calf but did not expect them to be practically on shore. I and several other people were at Swallowtail Light doing some work on the keepers buildings. We were almost finished when we heard a noise. Looking down, there was Silt and her calf almost touching the rocks. The shore drops off steeply there so they could get in very close. They rolled around, enjoying each other's company before moving offshore, travelling along the ferry route to the north. We had no idea where they had come from, seeming to appear out of the blue but no doubt had been travelling close along the shore.

Here is a picture of where the whales were first seen (X) and where they went:

I went and got a friend and her daughter who were visiting and we watched from another vantage the whales slowly swim along, holding our breathes to see where the whales would surface when the ferry passed nearby - fortunately not in the ferry's path.

I realize Silt isn't one of our adoptive whales but every right whale is special and this certainly warmed our hearts.