Monday, December 20, 2010

Injured calf of Wart

The National Marine Fisheries Service aerial survey of Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine found and photographed the 2001 male calf of Wart on December 18, 2010.  There were 28 right whales seen during this flight including #3140 or Lou as he is known.

He was last photographed in April, 2010 and since that time has had a significant injury on his tail stock or peduncle.  It is difficult to assess the injury from aerial photographs but a large section of skin is missing.  It is unknown if this extends completely around the tail stock.

We can only hope that Lou survives this injury.  Right whales do have an amazing ability to survive some gruesome injuries as seen with Ruffian #3530, who incidentally was also seen during this flight.

Ruffian's back scar - white scar tissue

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kleenex grand daughter and great-grand calf

On September 6, we went looking for humpbacks and sperm whales and ended up with right whales.   One of the mothers and calves was #3123, daughter of #1123, Drippy-nose or Sonnet, and grand daughter of #1142 Kleenex.  This mother calf pair had been seen by the Center for Coastal Studies research team on August 22 south of the September 6 location. 

Kleenex has one of the larger right whale families with eight offspring, seven grand calves (two born in 2010) and five great grand calves (one born in 2010).  Kleenex's last calf was born in 2009.

Her female offspring keep up the Bay of Fundy tradition by also bringing their calves to the Bay of Fundy in their first year.

This photo shows the mother #3123 behind her calf who is rolled on its side with the eye and eyebrow callosity and chin callosities visible.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another grandcalf of Kleenex seen in the Bay of Fundy

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) research vessel "Shearwater" found right whales slightly east of Northeast Banks, below Grand Manan on August 22.  The whales were located at the beginning of the shipping lanes and were skim feeding.  This is when the whales feed close to the surface, swimming through zooplankton patches with their mouths open.  The New England Aquarium research team went down to photograph the whales and found three but missed the mother/calf pair which was identified from photographs from the PCCS team as #3123, the 2001 daughter of Drippy-nose, known in the Right Whale Catalogue as Sonnet #1123, daughter of Kleenex.

We found another mother calf pair the same day, #2430 or Minus One.  They were swimming into the Bay with the mother doing a deep dive once she crossed into water over 500' deep.

2010 calf of Minus One

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Kleenex's grand calf

August 14 we were able to find possibly three mothers and calves, although one may have been a yearling with an unrelated adult.  Sometimes the relationships are temporary and may resemble mother and calf pairs, particularly of yearlings that still retain the calf head shape. 

One of the mothers was #2642, Kleenex's (#1142) daughter born in 1996.  She had been tentatively also been seen in late June off Nova Scotia and the New England Aquarium research team had seen the calf but not with #2642 so it was great to put the two together.  Mothers are often off feeding for a couple of hours leaving their calves at the surface where they rest or entertain themselves by playing with seaweed or splashing at the surface (tail lobbing, flipper slapping, breaching).  The two reunite by calling underwater.

2010 calf of right whale mother #2642 on its side with flipper in the air.  The chin callosities and eyebrow callosities are visible and the big curve of the lower lip.

Also in the same area was the right whale mother #2710, daughter of Stumpy (#1004) with her calf.   We had seen this pair earlier in August. 

The left side of the 2010 calf of right whale mother #2710.  Documenting both sides of the calf are critical for future identification.

Right whale numbers in the Bay of Fundy remain low, however other species of whales including humpbacks, fins, minkes are abundant.  We have photographed more humpback whales this year than any other year.  We have also been incredibly lucky to have found sperm whales on five different days.  Sperm whales are rarely seen in the Bay of Fundy and there are at least four with possibly more.  They are identifiable by their tail flukes and so far, four different flukes have been documented.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kleenex's daughter and grand-calf

Working with advice on right whales positions from the New England Aquarium research team, we headed out to the Grand Manan Basin in the afternoon on August 11.  We found two mother calf pairs, #3142, the 2001 calf of Kleenex, and #2710, the daughter of Stumpy.  #3142 calf is Kleenex's seventh grand-calf.  Her other daughter who is also a mother this year, #2642 was seen in June off the coast of Nova Scotia with her calf.

Calf of Right Whale #2710

To make the day even more special, we spotted a sperm whale, a rare sighting for the Bay of Fundy, near the location of the right whale mother and calves.

Sperm whale logging or napping at the surface

Sunday, August 8, 2010

2645 and calf sighting

Insignia's 2010 calf

Insignia #2645 and her calf were seen August 7. Insignia was born in 1996 to Slalom (#1245). Slalom is the 1982 calf of Wart #1140.

It was wonderful to see this new member to Wart's family. This is Insignia's third calf and the only granddaughter of Wart to have calves so far. Wart has had eight calves, the last one in 2008.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Right Whale Calf Found Dead

On July 2 a right whale calf was found dead 23 nautical miles from Southern Head, Grand Manan. Allied Whale from the College of the Atlantic photographed and took some samples but the badly decomposed calf was not recovered. The carcass had propeller cuts but without a full necropsy it is not known if this was pre- or post-mortem. It is also not known at this time whose calf this is but everyone will be keeping a lookout for a mother without a calf.

Not many right whales have been seen yet in the Bay of Fundy. The New England Aquarium team will begin surveys August 3 or so depending on weather and a better picture of where and how many right whales are in the Bay will be available.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Right Whales in the Bay of Fundy

Possible photos of #2642 and her second calf taken by June Swift, Brier Island, Nova Scotia. Identification is tentative.

Fog was been a constant in July as it often is with the land warming up quickly and the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy remaining cool. The hot, humid air mass creates dense fog when it moves out over cold water. As a result we haven't been able to survey for right whales in the Grand Manan Basin, concentrating on an area closer to Grand Manan where humpback, fin and minke whales have been found.

However, there have been some sightings of right whales along the Nova Scotia coast from the Brier Island and area whale watch companies. At least two mothers and their calves have been seen with tentative identifications of the mothers as #2642, the daughter of Kleenex and #2605, Smoke, daughter of #1705, Phoenix. Both whales have had one previous calf. The first mother calf pair were seen on June 20 and the second on June 22. The second pair were seen from shore but June Swift. Check out her blog postings at or the blog for Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Right Whales in the Bay of Fundy - May sightings

I received a report of 5-6 right whales on May 17 from the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association Whale Hotline. The whales were seen south of the island by a lobster fishermen. The Whale Hotline was established after a large number of right whales lingered in the Bay north of Grand Manan in 2006. The information goes out to fishermen so they can be alerted to the presence of right whales in areas where they may be fishing. They are asked to voluntarily avoid the area where the right whales are or to avoid hauling or setting gear in that area until the whales move on. They are also encouraged to report any entangled whales and a disentanglement team may be able to respond, depending on weather conditions.

May is a bit early for right whale sightings in the Bay of Fundy but not unheard of. It does mean that lobster fishermen have to be more diligent in watching for right whales to avoid entangling them. There has been a lot of work in this regard and things like the Whale Hotline, a voluntary Code of Conduct, articles in fishing newsletters, and presentations on disentangling whales help with this.

Great South Channel Area to Be Avoided

Following the success of the implementation of a seasonal voluntary Area to Be Avoided (ATBA) over right whale habitat on Roseway Basin from June 1 through December 31, south of the southern tip of Nova Scotia, a new Area to Be Avoided has been established around the Great South Channel/Georges Bank right whale habitat from April 1 through July 31. This area is east of Cape Cod and is of great importance to right whales, including many who are never seen in the Bay of Fundy. The Northeast US Right Whale Sighting Advisory System shows the location of this newest ATBA

By having large vessels voluntarily avoid these areas where right whales are known to congregate, the risk of the whales being hit by a large vessels decreases significantly. Vessel strikes are the leading cause of accidental death in right whales.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wart Free of Entangling Gear

Wart, #1140 who carried rope through her mouth and wrapped around her rostrum for two years is now gear free, thanks to the Center for Coastal Studies and the NOAA aerial survey team who coordinated the cutting of the rostrum wrap which freed the ends of the rope (see May 2 posting). With the rostrum wrap cut, the rope slipped out of her baleen and she was photographed by the NOAA aerial team surveying the Great South Channel gear free. Her mouth has a lot of scarring from the chaffing of the rope but she is otherwise healthy. Let's hope she remains gear free.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wart partially disentangled

The NOAA aerial survey team spotted Wart #1140 on May 1 in the Great South Channel off Cape Cod. The Center for Coastal Studies team were already on the water and proceeded to the location. The plane was able to stay on site through most of the disentanglement attempt and helped to keep the boat team on Wart as she actively avoided all attempts to get close to her. This avoidance behaviour is very common in right whales and complicates getting near a whale to remove entangling lines but is inherent to right whales to avoid harassment. Their strength and endurance that allows them to feed for hours on end with their mouth open straining zooplankton from the water, also prevents them from tiring easily when pursued. Unfortunately, it was not enough to protect them from the determination of the whalers.

Using a new cutting device, the disentanglement team eventually were able to cut the two lines over Wart's rostrum between her large lower lips and the line fell away. Sinking line still exits the mouth but when the plane had to return to shore for fuel, the boat team were unable to get close enough to try to grapple the sinking line. They were able to get clear photographs that the rostrum line was gone. If Wart is seen again, she will be assessed as to the remaining entanglement. It is hoped that with the two lines gone from the rostrum, the other line may work its way out of the mouth but it is not known how the line is held in the baleen.

Great work to the NOAA aerial crew and the Center for Coastal Studies disentanglement team!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wart seen again

Wart was seen east of Cape Cod on April 21, 2010 and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies spent three hours with her to see if they could cut off the wrap of rope that goes over her rostrum, in and out of her mouth. Unfortunately Wart spent most of that time feeding just below the surface or breaching so nothing could be done about her entanglement. She still looks healthy even though she has had the rope entanglement for two years, since at least March 6, 2008 when she was spotted in Cape Cod Bay. This is the third time in 2010 that she has been seen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Block Island right whale aggregation

The National Marine Fisheries Service flew an aerial survey on April 20, 2010 to look for right whales off Block Island. This is an historic area where right whales were hunted. In recent times right whale have been seen in this area but not in these numbers. Often their presence has been detected by sonobuoys, underwater buoys equipped with hydrophones, placed to pick up right whale calls in this area. Nearly 100 right whales were seen feeding in large groups. A mother and calf were also seen.

This aggregation seems to follow the abnormal winter with many adult right whale males going to the calving areas off Florida and Georgia and the mothers occurring more offshore and further south than usual. The latter was attributable to the colder than normal water temperatures after freezing temperatures in January.

Normally this time of year right whales are spotted in Cape Cod Bay and beginning to move into the Great South Channel.

The United States does have a speed reduction for large vessels that is implemented when right whales are aggregated in areas which hopefully will reduce the probability of any getting hit by ships as the ships head in and out of the port of New York, past Block Island.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Calf count grows as does Wart's family tree

It has been a slow calving season but several new mothers and calves have been spotted and the calf total is now 16 with a few potential mothers still in the calving area. That ties the number in 2004, the lowest number of calves born from 2001 to present, which is much higher than the lowest previous number of one calf in 2000.

Wart has a new great grandcalf. Her granddaughter Insignia #2645, daughter of Slalom #1245 was seen with her third calf on March 5. Her first calf in 2005 died. She had her second calf in 2007 after only two years which is only possible in right whales when a mother looses a calf shortly after birth and she does not loose the tremendous amount of blubber to nursing a rapidly growing calf. The female must regain the weight before she can get pregnant again and this is done during the resting year after the mother and calf separate, approximately a year after birth, is pregnant for a year and nurses for a year which gives a three year calving interval. Not all females are on this interval and there can be great differences between females. When the calf is lost the female can regain the much smaller weight loss more quickly and be ready for her next pregnancy earlier.

Wart's family now consists of six calves, eight grand-calves and three great grand-calves. At least one daughter #1704 is presumed dead, as is her calf #2704. Shackleton #2440 created quite a stir when he swam up the Delaware River, almost to Philadelphia.

Although not one of our adoptive whales, Stumpy was a regular to the Bay of Fundy. She died in 2004 when hit by a ship just prior to giving birth. Her loss was devastating to all that knew her and even more so because of the loss of the calf. Her extremely large size made it very difficult to recover her carcass. Her last calf #2710, born in 1997, has had her second calf this year, her first in 2006. Stumpy's daughter Phoenix is a grand mother again with her daughter having her second calf this year. She had her first calf in 2007.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gemini shows up in calving area

Gemini has been spotted in the right whale calving area off Georgia in the first part of February. This is the second time he has been seen in the calving area, the first in 2008. Gemini is more than 30 years old but his exact age is unknown. It is unusual for adult male right whales to travel to the calving area, preferring to winter somewhere else. The calving areas are not breeding areas for right whales. Why Gemini is now going to the calving area is unknown.

In recent years, aggregations of adult right whales have been observed in the Gulf of Maine (Jordan Basin and Jeffrey's Ledge) well into January before dispersing. It has been speculated that this might be a breeding area, given that right whale gestation is about a year with calves generally born from December through March

Gemini joins another approximately 90 right whales that have been seen in the calving area this winter but only eleven mothers and calves this year so far, well below the number of calves born in the last nine years but more reminiscent of the numbers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kleenex's family grows again

While the calving season has been slow this year for right whales with only ten calves born so far, Kleenex's family has grown with three new members, 2 grand-calves and one great-grand-calf. There is still time for a few more calves to be born and at least three or four possible mothers have been seen in the calving area, along with 60 other right whales.

Daughter #2642 (born in 1996) has had her second calf, the first born in 2007, daughter #3142 (born in 2001) has had her first calf (reported on January 6), and grand-daughter #3123 (daughter of Sonnet, aka Drippy-nose) has had her first calf. This means that Kleenex now has seven grand-calves and five great-grand-calves.

Daughter #2642 was last identified when she was in the Bay of Fundy with her first calf. Grand-daughter #3123 was last seen in August, 2008, also in the Bay of Fundy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baldy's 2009 Calf Seen Off Florida

Baldy is one of our more prolific mothers with a large family of at least eight calves, plus grandcalves and great-grandcalves. She was seen several times in 2009 in the Bay of Fundy with her calf. Unfortunately her calf had suffered from an entanglement somewhere along the migration route from Florida to the Bay of Fundy. With no rope or other gear on the whale, the calf appeared okay. It was obvious that an entanglement and escape had occurred because of the type of cuts across her head, back and tail stock (see September 4 post,

On January 25, 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team spotted Baldy's calf off Ponte Vedra, FL. They also responded with a vessel to get a closer look at the calf. No longer with Baldy, the health of the calf has deteriorated with many whale lice or cyamid amphipods on the tail stock. The whale lice population explodes when whales become unhealthy. Sick whales often turn a greyish colour from increased sloughing skin and the skin provides abundant food for the whale lice. Whale lice may also provide a role in keeping wounds clean. The whale also seemed to be moving unusually suggesting the entanglement may have caused spinal damage when the whale struggled to free itself from the entanglement.

The research teams will be on the lookout for this whale and hope that the injuries are not life-threatening.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wart #1140 Resighted

Wart, #1140, one of our adoptive whales, was reported entangled March 6, 2008. Rope entered and exited from her mouth. She was seen several times in March in Cape Cod Bay and then not again until February 25, 2009, still entangled and again in Cape Cod Bay. On January 24, 2010, she was seen again still entangled but this time further north in the Gulf of Maine in Jordon's Basin, a winter habitat that has been surveyed primarily by plane for the last several years and may be one of the mating areas for right whales. There were other right whales in the area but she was observed alone and probably feeding because of the long dive times.

Calving areas are separate from other activities and usually only a small proportion of the population attend (pregnant females, juveniles and a few non-pregnant adult whales) and are found from North Carolina to Florida along this coast.

The Center for Coastal Studies entanglement website has described the entanglement which continues to change orientation but persists with line coming out of the mouth. It does not appear life threatening but a continuing irritation to the whale. Disentangling right whales is not an easy task. Right whales seldom slow their swimming and show active avoidance and resistance to approaching disentanglers. Wart will continue to be monitored.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mavynne's calf resighted

In early September, I described the release of Mavynne, a right whale that was found entangled in the Gulf of Maine. Although she had last been seen with her calf in the Bay of Fundy in late August, her calf was not with her when responders arrived to disentangle her. It was unsure what had happened to her calf.

The good news is that her calf was seen in the southeastern United States on December 26 but without Mavynne. Calves often stay with their mothers for nearly a year but perhaps the trauma of the entanglement created an early separation for this pair. Mavynne hasn't been seen since being disentangled and it would not be expected for her to travel to Florida, particularly since her calf seems to have separated from her.

Our adoptive right whale families continue to grow

I received the latest right whale calving numbers from the New England Aquarium and was pleased to see that both Kleenex's and Baldy's families have new members.

On December 22, Bugs was seen with her fifth calf. Bugs is the daughter of Baldy, born in 1982 and this now means that Baldy has ten grand-calves, as well as at least eight calves herself (the latest in 2009) and two great-grand-calves. Baldy was seen many times this summer in the Bay of Fundy but Bugs hadn't been photographed since 2006 in both Cape Cod Bay and the Bay of Fundy, which is not unusual if right whales avoid areas when surveys are being conducted. Bugs is named for a scar on her back that looks like the cartoon character "Bugs Bunny". Bugs had her first calf in 1989, her second in 1995, her third in 2002 and her fourth in 2005.

Right whale #3142, daughter of Kleenex born in 2001, was seen with her first calf also on December 22. This gives Kleenex six grand-calves, as well as at least eight calves (the latest in 2009) and four great-grand-calves. Interesting, #3142 was also last seen in 2006 in the Bay of Fundy. The year #3142 was born was also the beginning of the right whale baby boom with 32 calves born that year. Since 2001 over 200 right whale calves have been born bringing the estimated total of right whales to 438 in 2008 as calculated by the New England Aquarium. This is a complicated calculation that takes many factors into consideration and is not considered an exact number but a good estimate.

The weather has not been favourable for right whale aerial surveys in the southeast United States so this number of calves may be low. Let's hope for better survey weather and more calves are found in the next couple of months. We probably won't have numbers like last year (39) but perhaps in the 20s.

Monday, January 4, 2010

How are Swedish Wolves and Right Whales related

One of our researchers was here over New Years and she was telling me about the situation in Sweden, where she now lives, with their wolves, clearly a small endangered population, not that much different from North Atlantic right whales. It is believed that the current Swedish wolf population started with only three individuals and has grown to 230-250 individuals. The government has approved a hunt of 27 wolves and have 12,000 hunters registered to participate in this hunt. Here is an excerpt from

"The most extensive wolf hunt in Sweden since the last century will start January 2: nd, 2010. More than 12 000 wolf hunters have registered to shoot 27 wolves in the five counties of Dalarna, Värmland, Gävleborg, Örebro and Västra Götaland. This kind of extensive wolf hunt hasn’t been seen since the 1920s. Over 10 % of the Swedish wolf population will be shot, although there aren’t more than 230-250 wolves in total. This hunt lacks any scientific reason, and is a violation of the European Union’s legislations of the Habitats Directive. Raise your voice, become a member and sign the petition at which will be sent to the Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren and the members of the Committee on Environment and Agriculture."

In the early 1900s a right whale hunt was restarted off the Hebrides, off Scotland, the whale fishery took 94 off Outer Hebrides and 6 off Shetland between 1903–1928, although only 3 after 1918 [Thompson, D’A.W. (1928) On whales landed at the Scottish whaling stations during the years 1908–1914 and 1920–1927. Scientific Investigations, Fishery Board of Scotland, 3, 1–40.]. None were obtained when whaling resumed in 1950–1951 [Brown, S.G. (1976) Modern whaling in Britain and the North-east Atlantic Ocean. Mammal Review, 6, 25–36]. In Western Ireland, 18 were caught between 1908–1914, but none in 1920 or 1922 [Fairley, J.S. (1981) Irish whales and whaling. Longstaff Press, Dublin]. These populations have not recovered but if this right whale hunt had not occurred in the early 1900s a right whale population along the European coast would be present today.

Now the level of hunt of right whales was clearly higher than the proposed wolf hunt, one wonders how we can decide what number is appropriate. And why do they want a smaller wolf population in Sweden? Perhaps because the same 12,000 hunters see wolves as a competitor with large game? Good thing that right whales eat zooplankton. That argument can never be made unless someone develops a zooplankton market. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem, since krill harvesting has already been in place in the Antarctic and was also proposed off Nova Scotia as a finishing ingredient for farmed Atlantic salmon. Colouring additives need to be added to farmed salmon since they are not eating such things as krill in the pellets they are fed daily and salmon, like flamingos are white-fleshed. Flamingos have white feathers if they do not eat brine shrimp.

I keep hoping that we will see other species as something we don't have to "manage" and that we can live in harmony with them but my normally optimistic self keeps getting derailed by such acts as culls.