Saturday, August 29, 2009

Where are the right whales?

It has been an unusual summer with few right whales in the deep waters of the Grand Manan Basin. Over the last few days, 40+ right whales have been found east of the southern Wolves, an island group that you pass on the ferry crossing, north of Grand Manan. The New England Aquarium research team has been surveying this area and also had another vessel out surveying an area to the southeast of Grand Manan where another group of right whales were found on Friday. Together with the whales we found on our whale watch, 80+ right whales are in the Bay.

The zooplankton tows done in an area where right whales normally occur have been coming up with very few copepods and hence the reason the right whales are not there. Off the Wolves, processed copepods, courtesy of herring, are floating at the surface in long windrows. Obviously the herring are also feeding on copepods in the same area as the right whales.

A few right whales have been found on Roseway Basin as well by another vessel with New England Aquarium researchers. They have been dodging hurricanes and tropical storms with the latest, Danny, working up the coast. Fortunately this second storm has never developed into a hurricane and will not be as damaging to the area. The first hurricane, Bill, moved mostly offshore, also reducing the storm damage but seas were high.

There is still a long way to go in documenting the right whale calves. We have seen very few calves, although did have a calf in the surface active group we were watching yesterday. It was difficult to tell who the mother was in the mass of pursuing males but hopefully I did catch her on camera.

It was great to see Gemini yesterday in a surface active group of about in a surface active group of 15-20 right whales.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hurricane Bill

The Bay of Fundy has been very quiet with most of the effects of Hurricane Bill occurring along the Nova Scotia Atlantic coastline. Offshore the wave heights have been more spectacular with 10 to 13 m (30 to 40 foot) seas. These oceanic conditions are ones that right whales and all other marine mammals must deal with as part of their daily lives. It isn't any wonder why they like to nap at the surface on calm days. Heavy seas invoke higher surfacings, often involving breaching or tail lobbing. Timing breathing is important so the waves aren't crashing over the blowhole on the inhale. However, body surfing is not uncommon.

Seabird enthusiasts often head to the shore after hurricanes to see if strays may turn up that were carried by the storm outside their normal range. Similar events can happen with whales but not necessarily because of direct affect but because of strong wind and currents rearranging the zooplankton patches and fish schools. It is not uncommon for whales to spend more time feeding after a storm rather than socializing, replenishing energy spent during stormy conditions or because prey (food) is more spread out.

It will be interesting to see what has happened in the Bay of Fundy after 3 days of dense fog. The New England Aquarium research team is heading out to Roseway Basin for a right whale survey, delaying their departure because of the hurricane. They are hoping to find more mothers and calves because, although the Bay of Fundy should be full of mothers and calves, the number of pairs has been low given the 39 births. Part of their team will remain in the Bay and continue surveying.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More right whales have arrived

The weekend had more right whales arriving in the Bay of Fundy, with an estimated 40 or more along a narrow stretch. Prior to this, the New England Aquarium had photographed and/or identified 33 different whales including seven calves since the beginning of August. The whales are close to Grand Manan on the western side of the Grand Manan Basin.

Zooplankton tows conducted by our researchers last week in the Grand Manan Basin showed low levels of copepods which is the major reason the right whales are not in the deep part of the Basin. Zooplankton tows were not done on the western side of the Basin where the right whales are now but it would be interesting to see the results and are planned.

This arrival of right whales is a bit later than some years but there is great variability in the arrival times of right whales in the Bay of Fundy. Development of dense zooplankton patches, availability of zooplankton elsewhere are possible reasons. The more whales, the more difficult it is to find mothers and calves who earlier almost had the Bay to themselves.

Hot, humid weather has also spawned more fog which makes finding right whales or any whales more difficult. If the sea conditions are calm, whales can be heard breathing and you can move slowly toward the direction where the sound is coming from but great care must be taken and slow speeds employed since sounds travel farther than the whales can be seen in the restricted visibility.

A number of small power boats travelling above 15 knots have been in the whale area in the last few days, whale watching. So far there have been no close encounters between the boats and the whales but slow speed is the more prudent approach to watching whales, particularly if the operators are inexperienced with whale behaviour.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Baldy's calf

Baldy was seen in the Bay of Fundy August 9th by the New England Aquarium research team during their regular surveys. Baldy's calf has been injured and has marks across the head and also on the tail stock. It is unclear at this time the cause of the injury but is of concern. This is Baldy's eighth calf and she has one of the larger documented right whale families.

Another calf, the calf of 2145, has a large shark bite on its side but although impressive, probably poses no long term problems for this whale.

Slash and calf

August 9th, the New England Aquarium research vessel found Slash #1303 and her calf in the Bay of Fundy during their regular surveys.

This is Slash's sixth calf. Slash last had a calf in 2005. She is often hard to photograph with her calf and many of her calves are not well documented. Slash is identifiable not only with her callosity pattern but also because of a tail injury from a propeller cutting through her tail.