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!