#5: Meet a Researcher

My name is Zach Swaim and this is my first season flying right whale surveys with the New England Aquarium. I've been working with right whales for the past four years at the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station (GMWSRS) on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada.

Grand Manan is an incredible island, rich in maritime culture and surrounded by an abundance of marine life. The island is located at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy and is an ideal location for scientists to research the animals that aggregate in these highly productive waters during the summer months. The GMWSRS studies many different marine species including, harbour porpoises, shearwaters, Atlantic herring, basking sharks and right whales. During my first summer (2005) at the GMWSRS, I became more aware of the problems facing right whales and the incredible effort by researchers to protect this species. By the end of my first summer on Grand Manan, I knew I wanted to continue working with right whales.

In 2006, I began a masters degree with Dr. Heather Koopman at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where I was able to continue studying right whales in the Bay of Fundy. The objective of my study was to determine whether right whales were able to metabolize the lipids (or fats) of their prey (copepods). I did this by comparing the lipids of right whale fecal material to the lipids found in their copepod prey. It turns out that right whales were eating approximately 62,000 g of fat in one day (this is comparable to eating over 100 blocks of butter!) and were digesting 98% of this fat! This indicates that right whales are highly efficient at metabolizing the fats in their diet. My study can therefore be used to further refine models of habitat quality (in terms of the nutritional value of the prey) for right whales, and in turn aid in the creation of management strategies aimed at protecting critical habitat for these animals (Swaim et al. in press).

I love working with right whales in the Bay of Fundy and I am very excited to start working with these animals in a different habitat and to see them from a different perspective.



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