#13: Waiting for Whales in the Bay

The fog and wind finally let up enough for us to return to the Bay of Fundy to search for right whales. We saw several of them today, but we were only able to photograph one individual. Each opportunity we have to return to the Bay is exciting in its own way, and each whale we encounter presents its own challenges – some of the whales seem to say "let me pose for the photograph," while others say "catch me if you can!" In the latter case, we're usually waiting for the right whale to surface from a feeding dive (typically lasting 10 minutes). When the right whale is surfacing, it will let out a deep and powerful breath. The sound of the breath is a good clue to the animal's position on foggy days like today.

Food is thought to be one of the primary reasons right whales visit the Bay of Fundy. Just what does a 70-ton right whale eat? What else, but rice-grain sized crustaceans known as copepods (Read more about these tiny animals here and see a close-up picture of these pink creatures here.) Right whales eat by swimming forward with their mouths open, capturing copepods that are too slow or oblivious to get out of the way. Rather than chew their food with teeth, these whales trap their prey with fine comb-like strainers, known as baleen, that hang from the roof of the whale's mouth.

It takes a lot of copepods to satisfy the appetite of a whale, and it takes tons of energy (pun intended) to propel such a large animal forward with its mouth open. To make up for the extraordinarily large number of calories expended in the feeding process, right whales must find and forage in areas containing many thousands of copepods per cubic meter of water. In the Bay of Fundy, these dense concentrations usually occur 100+ meters below the surface.

The sight of the whale's tail (a.k.a. flukes), like a wave goodbye as the whale begins its dive, tells us that if we want to see it again we need to keep our eyes on our watch and our ears tuned to the telltale "blow" of the whale when it resurfaces.

- Dan

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