Friday, December 9, 2011

Kleenex's Daughters

Both Echo (#2642) and #3142, 1996 and 2001 calves of Kleenex #1142 were seen in the Bay of Fundy by the New England Aquarium this August and/or September.  Both were mothers in 2010 and both brought their calves to the Bay as they were also brought by their mother Kleenex when they were calves.

Right whale mothers take at least a year to recover the weight they lost nursing their calves for a year, plus a year pregnancy which gives a minimum three year calving interval.  The New England Aquarium are concerned about both of Kleenex's daughters because they have not adequately recovered their weight and are showing signs of stress: leaner bodies and with Echo, rake marks below her blow holes.  These are parallel white marks that are only present in under weight, sick or stressed animals.

Photograph taken by the New England Aquarium in the Bay of Fundy in 2011 showing a thin right whale
 "Echo" #2642 with white rake marks below her blowholes.
It may be that zooplankton patches have been harder to find or fewer patches were found last year when they were nursing their calves, and both females lost more weight than usual during nursing.  Hopefully, this will improve and the health of these sisters will improve. 

A similar problem occurred in the 1990s when many of the right whales were under weight.  Odd white skin patches developed on many individuals and calving intervals increased to over six years between calves.  Lack of adequate food (zooplankton) was suggested.  There was much concern for the right whale population because, combined with high accidental mortalities, the population began to decline.  That trend was reversed for the last ten years when the population began increasing when the number of calves born rose dramatically (an average of 22 calves as compared to just over 11 calves prior to 2001).  Are we heading for lower numbers of calves again because females are thinner?  Or is this a blip that will disappear quickly as food resources recover, if that is the problem? We shall have to wait and see.

Radiator Update

Last photographed July 18, 2009 on George's Bank at the mouth of the Gulf of Maine, Radiator was trailing rope with a yellow buoy.  The attachment point for this was unclear.  He hasn't been photographed since but that is not unusual with some right whales who sometimes avoid areas where researchers or others are more likely to be.  Right whales are constantly on the move even when they are in feeding areas.  The shifting zooplankton patches and their never ending cruising around the North Atlantic makes it difficult to always know where they are or may turn up.  While in general whales move northward during the summer to feeding grounds and southward to wintering areas - this can be as far as Florida for pregnant females and young whales, or further north for males and non-pregnant females, these areas are fluid and can change yearly.

Right Whale lifting tail flukes in a dive off Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy
The New England Aquarium maintain the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog ( which is a great source of information about where individuals have been photographed, as well as photographs of each whale.  The Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA, keep files on right whale entanglements.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Calvin is Back

Two right whales involved in a "surface active group".  The
V-shaped blow is characteristic of right whales.
The New England Aquarium right whale research team found Calvin in the Bay of Fundy this week.  She had been seen last in March in Cape Cod Bay by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.  It was appropriate that she arrived in the Bay to coincide with a visit from the Calvineers, Grade 7 and 8 students from the Adams School in Castine, ME.  They focus on Calvin and her unique story:  Here is a quote from their website, :

"Hello! Welcome to the first official website of the Calvineers! We're a small group of seventh and eighth graders who are dedicated to saving the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. This species of whale migrates every year, from Florida, where their calves are born, to the Bay of Fundy, in Canada. There are only around four-hundred of these whales left. Together, we believe that by educating the public, we can help save the Right Whales." 

It was a pleasure to take them out on the Whales-n-Sails Adventure whale watch vessel on September 21, 2011 to find right whales.  Despite the fog closing in and extending our trip, we were able to find some right whales and had a great time with them, but, alas, not Calvin.
Calvineers aboard the "Elsie Menota" after viewing right whales
Calvineers under "Delilah's"skeleton and life size model in
the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, NB. Delilah was
Calvin's mother and died in 1992 leaving Calvin to fend for herself

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gemini Update

September 17 there was a large group of right whales engaged in a Surface Active Group (SAG) or courtship group.  These SAGs usually consist of a focal female and a range of number of males from as few as one to as many as 50!  This SAG was about 20 whales and we caught the end of it when the female dove and the males started to mill about.

Gemini's head as seen from the right

One of the pair of scars on Gemini's back which resulted in his name.

New entanglement scars on Gemini's tail.
One of the males was Gemini, seen earlier in August in the Bay of Fundy by the New England Aquarium research team.  He has relatively recent new entanglement scars on his tail that have healed and turned white.  Scarring in right whales is often with white scar tissue which is easy to see against their dark skin.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Slalom, her 2011 Calf and Gemini

Wart has a large family and daughter Slalom, born in 1982, with her 2011 calf has been sighted in the Bay of Fundy by the New England Aquarium research team.  In addition, they have also spotted Gemini, a large male named for the pair of scars on his back.

The right whale numbers are up this year compared to 2010 when food resources seemed to be limited and the right whales did not stay long in the Bay when they did come in.  There have been more right whales seen this year already than all the sightings from last summer.

Right whale diving in the Bay of Fundy

Drippy-nose and her 2011 Calf

Drippy-nose and her 2011 calf were seen for the first time in the Bay of Fundy on August 27 just before tropical storm Irene moved through the area.  She and her calf were seen again August 30 by the New England Aquarium research team.  She was not seen on the calving ground in the winter but was seen off the Cape Cod area in the spring with her several months old calf.  In 2008 she also wasn't seen on the calving area off Florida/Georgia, but was first seen with her calf in the Bay of Fundy with a large calf probably six to eight months old. 

The calf's callosity pattern on its head, cornified skin that forms unique patterns on the head of all right whales, was photographed and the calf can be followed for the rest of its life using these unique patterns.  Whale lice do live on the callosities giving them a more colourful appearance but the callosities themselves do not greatly change over time, other than the head growing in size.  Calves also loose the concave shape to their head and it becomes convex.  Right whale calves often have more orange whale lice than adults.  This species of whale lice tend to be more prevalent on slow moving calves and adults that are compromised by injury or illness.  Whale lice eat the constantly sloughing skin on right whales.  Calves are growing quickly and probably slough more skin; the skin of sick animals often turns grey and sloughs in large sheets, promoting the growth of whale lice.

Drippy-nose's 5th calf born in 2011, left side of head

Drippy-nose's 5th calf born in 2011, right side of head

Drippy-nose's callosity pattern.  The white mark in the coaming callosity
(immediately before the blowholes is distinctive).

White scarring on Drippy-nose's tail from an entanglement in fishing gear.
Drippy-nose, AKA Sonnet, was first seen as a calf with her mother Kleenex in the Bay of Fundy in 1981.  At 30 years of age, this is her fifth calf.  She had her first calf when she was 10.  Calves are generally spaced at three years or more (one year pregnancy, one year nursing, one year recovering weight lost during the year of nursing).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bayof Fundy weather

It has been a difficult August this year with weather.  Lots of fog and rain and now post-tropical storm "Irene", making survey days limited.  There are definitely more right whales in the Bay this year than last year which was an unusually low number year for right whales. Several mothers and calves have been seen, as well as some surface active groups, indicating that males numbers are also good this year.

Hopefully, there will be a few more better weather days in the next month so the calves can be photo-documented.

Right whale calf seen August 27, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Many Right Whales Seen by New England Aquarium Research Team

The New England Aquarium Research Team were able to get out on August 9 and found over 25 right whales, two sei whales and one sperm whale.  Our researchers were also out the same day to do some plankton tows, confirming that large quantities of copepods, the preferred food of right whales, are present in the Bay.  Sei whales also eat copepods which makes sense why they are also here.

The sperm whale sighting is exciting since this is now the second year that they have been in the Bay after only one other sighting in the past 30 years before 2010.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Right Whales Sighted

A right whale was spotted July 11 to the south of Grand Manan by the crew of the whale watching vessel, Day's Catch (Sea Watch Tours) from Grand Manan.  This is the first sighting in Grand Manan waters this year.  Another right whale may have been seen on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay today, July 13.

We have been spending our time with fin and humpback whales, with fingers crossed that we will also see some right whales.  Today was so calm and warm that we were in shirt sleeves, a rare occurrence even in the summer in the Bay of Fundy.  Our senses were inundated by beautiful visual images, the sound of whales breathing in all directions and the intense smell of whale defecation.
Humpback Whale name Lace
Fin Whale head just as it breaks the surface and the whale begins to exhale

Humpback Whale in the foreground and a Fin Whale in the background
Couple that with grey seals and dancing Wilson's storm petrels and the day was magnificent.

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Surfacing Grey Seal

Monday, July 4, 2011

No Right Whale Sightings in the Bay of Fundy Yet

We are patiently waiting for the first right whale sighting of the season in the Bay of Fundy.  There were 22 right whale calves born so we expect to see some of those in the Bay with their mothers.  So far, however,  none have been reported, although there are many other whale species - fin, humpback and minke whales.  Also Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbour porpoises. And, unfortunately, also a dead Atlantic white-sided dolphin and a pilot whale.

Atlantic white-sided dolphin porpoising in front of fin whales.

Most of the aerial surveys in the Gulf of Maine still had many right whale sightings and the auto-detection buoy system is picking up right whale calls at one of the buoys along the shipping lanes into the port of Boston,

For more on listening to whale calls, read the article on the Woods Hole website:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

In loving memory of Slash

It is with great sadness that I must withdraw one of our whales from the symbolic adoption program.  It breaks my heart every time I hear of another dead right whale, particularly when they have become so much as part of the Bay of Fundy summers. 

In the latest Right Whale Research News Volume 20, No. 1, from the New England Aquarium, Marilyn Marx wrote the following:

"There is sad news in the right whale world: The great old whale Slash (Catalog #1303) is dead.  A boat captain discovered her carcass floating off Virginia on March 17, but it was never relocated so we don't know for sure how she died (but shipstrike is suspected).  She was first photographed in 1979, and she was named for her injured right fluke, the result of a shipstrike.  Over the years we saw her with six calves (though she may have had more). She was a protective mother: She rarely came near the boat when she was with a calf: we would see her distinctive flukes lifted in the distance, leading her calf away from potential danger."

Slash (on the left) in a courtship group in the Bay of Fundy, September 15, 2009.  The distinctive white scar on her tail was from a propeller slicing through her tail.  A normal right whale tail is on the right  and the back of another right whale is below. Her 2009 calf was with her in this group.
Her memory will continue with everyone who knew her and her death will be added to the long list of right whales that have died since right whales become valued for their existence, rather than the value of their blubber and baleen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Drippy-Nose's 2001 calf #3123 seen entangled

The 2001 female calf of Drippy-nose, AKA Sonnet, #3123, was photographed by the Center for Coastal Studies in Provinceton, MA on April 29, 2011.  Recently during analysis of the photos, they realized that the whale had what appeared to be red material near the right side of the mouth or the flipper.  Although the whale had been seen two other times in the previous month, this area of the whale was not observed.  It was very difficult to see the entanglement and the recommendation is to monitor the whale.

This female had her first calf over a year ago.  Calves usually stay with their mothers for a year before separating.  It would have been expected that her calf went its own way this winter.  She was seen by Quoddy Link Marine October 12, 2010 in the Bay of Fundy.  Her calf was Kleenex's fifth grand calf.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Kleenex family grows again with a new grand-calf

2008 calf of Drippy-nose taken August 26, 2008
The analysis of photographs taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service aerial survey team has revealed the 21st right whale mother of this calving season and she is Kleenex's 1981 daughter Drippy-nose, AKA Sonnet (#1123) in the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalogue.  This is Drippy-nose's fifth calf and Kleenex's eighth grand-calf.  Drippy-nose had her last calf in 2008.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Whales moving north

After another successful but eventful calving season, 20 new right whale calves are travelling north with their mothers.  A number of right whales have been seen off the tip of Long Island, NY, and off Cape Cod (Stellwagen and Wilkinson Banks and the Great South Channel) in April.  If these positive trends in calving continue and accidental right whale deaths are limited, the population may reach the 500 mark in the next few years.  The current right whale population number is estimated at 473.

What made the calving season eventful?  Many entangled right whales, whales with propeller scarring from being run over by smaller vessels, an orphaned new born and the death of a right whale that gained public attention when she was sedated and rope removed but because the entenlargement was too severe with many complications, she was unable to recover.

Mother (Insignia #2645) and calf seen in the Bay of Fundy August 7,  2010
We don't expect any mothers and calves for a few months in the Bay of Fundy and hope that the season brings more right whales than in 2010 when less than 40 right whales were photo-identified in the Bay - on the low side for one of the critical habitats in Canada.  Lack of food because of low copepod numbers (the right whale preferred zooplankton food) is one of the suspected problems last summer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Baldy's family grows

On the 4th of January the Georgia Department of Natural Resources aerial survey team photographed Orion with her first calf.  Orion #3240 is the 2002 calf of Baldy #1240.  Baldy now has at least 11 grand calves from three of her daughters and one son.  Bugs has had five calves, #1503 has had four calves, Orion her first calf and son #2140 has fathered a calf.

Orion gets her name from three callosity islands on the left side of her head between the bonnet (at the tip of the rostrum) and the coaming (before the blowholes) that are reminiscent of the three stars in the constellation Orion's belt.  Names that reflect a characteristic of the callosities or other markings or scars are helpful in trying to remember particular whales.  Right whales do not all have names but there is a concerted attempt to name 15 or so a year.