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.

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