#13: A Whale-Sized Donation

Since 1998, Irving Oil has shown support for the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale by partnering with the New England Aquarium Right Whale Research Program and providing funding necessary to run our field research projects. In addition to their 2014 funding, this year Irving Oil ran a campaign on Facebook for our program. Facebook users could show support for right whales while also entering a contest for an Irving fuel card, and with each entry Irving Oil donated $5 to our research. We are extremely pleased that this campaign was so successful- $20,000 (that's 4,000 clicks!) was raised!!!

Jumping for joy! Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

Thank you, Irving Oil, for your additional donation! And a special thanks to all of the people who supported this campaign and participated to help us reach our $20,000 goal! Clearly, we couldn't have done it without all of you!


#12: Roseway Basin- the first leg

On August 15, a team including Moe, Philip, Kelsey, Marianna and Kari left Campobello Island for an offshore trip aboard the Shelagh, captained by Joe. Destined for Roseway Basin and slated to last two weeks, the Shelagh was packed to the brim with food, supplies and equipment. After a few days of loading and orienting ourselves to the boat, we left around noon on Friday and began surveying after leaving the harbor. Our sightings in the Grand Manan Channel were few and far between, but there was plenty of fishing gear to be counted. After we ate our first dinner at sea, we continued transiting overnight so that we would reach Roseway Basin by the morning.

Heading to the Shelagh, at Campobello Island.

The next day, we were able to start our tracklines at the western edge of  Roseway Basin, and we surveyed our southern-most track from west to east. There were far more pelagic birds seen than the day before, such as greater shearwaters, gannets, and Wilson's storm petrels. The amount of bird life seemed promising, but the majority of our cetacean sightings were fin whales. We were hove to for the night, and in the morning began surveying more to the northeast. Again, we had very few sightings of anything, and the weather was making our trip more than just a bit unpleasant. While Kelsey and Philip were on watch in a sea state 4-5, two breaching humpbacks were sighted.

Success! Breaching humpback, photographed by Philip Hamilton.

This being the most action we had all day, we were determined to get photographs to identify the individuals. Doing our best to hold on to the coffee pot in the galley while Kelsey and Philip did their best to hang on up top, the team worked together to collect photographs in the safest, most efficient way possible. After confirming that the weather would be worsening the next day, we headed in that night to the port at Daniel's Head on Cape Sable Island, N.S.

After docking in Cape Sable, the team was eager to go for a walk and do some stretching.

A boat sure can get dirty in three days! We spent the morning in port cleaning, and then welcomed a guest from Jasco Applied Sciences who came bearing some important equipment- the pop-up acoustic buoys that Dalhousie University requested us to deploy. We were happy to oblige, since the buoys will detect right whale calls in Roseway Basin- check back for a future post in which Moe will explain the details!

Even though we hadn't seen any right whales, the first leg of our offshore trip was a successful shake-down cruise. We figured out how long our pre-made dinners take to defrost, how to use the walkie-talkie without sounding like you're in the middle of a hurricane, accepted the fact of having an interrupted sleep schedule every night, and figured out why the refrigerator had not been working for three days. After spending a day in Cape Sable, we were ready to head back out to Roseway to see what else was out there...

Getting cozy with the fishing boats at Daniel's Head, Cape Sable.


#11: The Birds of the Bay

Since its my first time in Lubec for the Bay of Fundy field season, I was pretty excited for what sightings were in store for me! Although I’ve already had experience with right whales, mainly flying aerial surveys, I was excited to see the whales from a different perspective. I was also interested to see the different kinds of birds that lived in the waters of the Bay of Fundy.

Many of the birds we see on our surveys are familiar to us from the waters near Boston. We saw Great shearwaters, as well as a few Sooty shearwaters, a group of birds that get their name from their characteristic shearing flight just above the surface of the water.

Great shearwater gliding above the surface in the early morning calm. 
Photo: Philip Hamilton

Shearwaters are found in the western North Atlantic for a few months in the summertime, and feed mainly on small fish--so they are often found near large whales, like the humpbacks we’ve seen on recent surveys. 

This Great shearwater must have thought we had fish on board when it joined us for lunch! 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

We’ve also seen large groups of much smaller birds, storm petrels! These delicate birds are actually related to the larger shearwaters; they are in the same order Procellariformes, commonly called tubenoses. The tubenoses get their name from their pronounced nostrils enclosed in tubes at the top of their bill. The birds can drink seawater, and they extract the salt using a special gland, excreting it through the tube. 

Storm-petrel on a search for plankton. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

Storm-petrels (and other tubenoses) also have a sense of smell, rare among birds, that allows them to find and exploit patchy food resources. They mainly feed on plankton, and Wilson’s storm-petrels in particular can often be seen “dancing” on the water, picking out bits of plankton from the water’s surface. Since they feed on the same type of food as the right whales, we’re hoping that the fact that we’ve seen such large numbers of them means that there is plenty of food for the whales, too!

Wilson’s storm-petrel “dancing” on the water. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

Another small bird we’ve been seeing a lot of are Red and Red-necked phalaropes. Since we are usually fairly far from shore, you might be surprised to find out that these birds are actually a type of sandpiper, birds that are more commonly found along shorelines! However, these birds migrate through open ocean from their breeding grounds. We’ve noticed a lot of large groups of phalaropes sitting on the water, where they pick insect larvae from the water. 

Red phalarope taking off as the Neried passes by. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

A real treat for many of us that spend most of our time in the Boston area are the alcids we see in the Bay of Fundy. The most recognizable bird from this family is the Atlantic puffin, which we’ve gotten great opportunities to observe so far. 

Atlantic puffin cruising by. 
Photo: NEAq/Orla O’Brien

We’ve also sighted many Black guillemots, and some Razorbills--both puffin relatives. If you were lucky enough to see these birds further south, they would probably be in their basic (non-breeding) plumage, so it has been a real treat for me to see them all in their summer finest!

Juvenile Razorbill swims behind an adult in breeding plumage. 
Photo: Orla O’Brien

Overall, it seems like theres no shortage of life in the Bay, so hopefully its an omen of whales to come! 



#10: Where did they go??

Dan and Bill looking for whales in glassy sea. Photo: Marilyn Marx

Sunday was a stunningly beautiful day out in the Bay of Fundy--a glass calm sea state and excellent visibility. With the three vessels mentioned in our last blogNereid, Callisto and Selkie we did an extensive surveyWe could see for miles and found humpbacks, fin whales, molas, dolphins and basking sharks, but no right whales were sighted.

Team member Orla O'Brien has identified this humpback as Photon, an adult female. Photo Amy Knowlton

A good look at an approaching Mola mola. Photo: Marilyn Marx

An Atlantic white-sided dolphin surfing in the Nereid''s wake. Photo: Marilyn Marx

We were disappointed of course, but are hopeful that the Bay will soon be back to the way it was in 2006 when  photographer Brian Skerry got this wonderful photo of the Nereid working a surface active group for a National Geographic article about right whales.

Photo: Brian Skerry



#9: What a difference a week makes!

While some of the team is offshore, a few of us have stayed in Lubec to continue surveying the Bay of Fundy.  We had two good days out on Wednesday and Thursday but the number of whales had dropped significantly since last week’s surveys. Even with thorough coverage (by 3 research vessels: Nereid, Callisto and Selkie) in calm seas only seven whales were photo’d in the two days.  That's quite a change from the 26 individuals seen on August 12.

Catalog #4091 (four-year-old, sex unknown) in the Bay of Fundy August 21. Photo: Amy Knowlton

Besides the right whales we had some great views of a few other species, including the oddest looking fish on the planet, the Mola mola (also known as ocean sunfish)...

Video: Alex Loer

...a sperm whale (and using the unique scalloped edge of the fluke we were able to confirm that it is the same whale we had photographed back in 2013!)...

Photo: Elizabeth Burgess

...and a very beautiful avian visitor--curious tern!

Photo: Marilyn Marx

Meanwhile out on Roseway, the Shelagh crew have been having some very successful days and have seen many of the whales that had been in the Bay of Fundy during the first week of surveys back in early August. We are hopeful that the whales come back into the Bay, so stay tuned!