Sunday, November 15, 2009

Right whales in November

Many years some right whales remain off Grand Manan and the Bay of Fundy well into November and sometimes into December. In late January of this year, three right whales were seen off Point LePreau, above Grand Manan. However, this year, only two right whales have been seen since October 20.

Where have they gone? Three juvenile whales were seen off North Carolina on November 8 but the largest numbers have been seen off Cashes Ledge, Jeffrey's Ledge and Jordan Basin in the lower Gulf of Maine. Most sightings of right whales in the winter in the Gulf of Maine, Cape Cod area are from aerial surveys, either through the National Marine Fisheries Service or the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA. Winter conditions in areas where right whales might be located are often severe and beyond workable conditions for small boats so aerial surveys are used and can cover a much wider area. Details of right whale sightings in the Gulf of Maine to Long Island, NY from the North East Right Whale Sighting Advisory System can be viewed at:

Another unique method of locating right whales is through listening posts or buoys located on or near the ocean floor. Checking the website as I write, two buoys have picked up right whale calls along the shipping lane for the port of Boston within the last 24 hours: If you would like to hear some right whale calls, click on the "Explore Whale Sounds" tab.

Winter aerial surveys of the calving areas from North Carolina to Florida will begin in a couple of weeks and will continue to March. Hopefully it will be another good year for right whale mothers and calves.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Right whales seen on aerial survey

I have been working with Fisheries and Oceans to look for right whales off Grand Manan. This is to alert lobster fishermen to their presence so they can take voluntary measures to avoid having the whales entangled in their lobster gear. Our first two flights yielded many humpback whales and finback whales but no right whales, however the November 7 flight resulted in two right whales spotted toward the end of our flight. We also had 23 humpback whales, 18 finback whales, 2 basking sharks and 1 unidentified whale (dove before we could get a good look at it).

Here is a view of the pilot and the fisheries officer in the plane, both watching for whales:

The two right whales were swimming southwest and may have been going out of the Bay. November 10 is the start of the lobster season around Grand Manan, Campobello Island, the Wolves and along the New Brunswick mainland. It is always an anxious time particularly when there are still large numbers of right whales in the Bay which potentially could get tangled in buoy lines or the lines that link lobster traps together in a trawl. During the summer and fall, the Bay is relatively free of fishing gear, unlike the coast of Maine, where lobster fishing is in full swing.
Here are two lobster boats loaded with traps ready to set on November 10:

We will continue the flights until possibly December, depending on what we find. The flights are also only flown is good weather which can be hard to find this time of year. Too many white caps can make it difficult to see the whales.

Here is a photo of two humpbacks taken during the November 5 flight. The orangish-brown streak is actually whale "poop". This humpback had been eating krill. Unlike in right whales, humpback poop is more liquid and disperses quickly, whereas right whale poop may float at the surface for quite some time and is often more solid. You can tell these are humpback whales because of the long white flippers, dorsal fin and balloon-shaped blow or spout.