#10: Moms in strange places

Well, it turned out that what we discovered in our last blog entry was just the tip of the iceberg! We went out to sea on Thursday with the wind blowing and the forecast for the winds to remain strong all day. We were going on gut instinct (and a big dose of hope) that it would be better than forecasted and were right! We had good conditions and found a large group of right whales east of South Wolf Island- 20 miles north of where we usually see them. And one of the pressing questions of this season (Where are all the mothers and calves?) was answered! We had 7 calves in one day and most of the mothers had not been seen yet this season.

Another one of the questions may have been answered as well. I wrote about the whale Tips in post #7 and wondered why we see him only once a season when he comes to the Bay of Fundy. Well ... Tips has been seen repeatedly off East Quoddy light on Campobello, New Brunswick for the last week. One of the whale watch boat captains says he has the latitude and longitude written down and goes there daily to see him. It is rare for a right whale to show such specific site fidelity. Maybe Tips really likes this northern area and has been spending his summers in this area where we rarely survey.

But as each question is answered, new ones come up. Why are many of the whales so far north? The last time many right whales were this far north during the summer was back in 1980 and 1981--nearly 30 years ago! It almost certainly has to do with the distribution of food, but we are not equipped aboard the R/V Nereid to do the necessary oceanographic sampling to determine what has changed.

On Friday, we had an unusually broad picture of right whale distributions. We had 40 right whales in this northern area, the R/V Callisto had another 20 whales in the middle of the Grand Manan Basin, a whale watch boat had 15 right whales to the west near Grand Manan Island, and our research team on Roseway Basin south of Nova Scotia had 20 whales there--nearly 100 whales in a single day!

Stay tuned to see how this distribution changes, if at all, over the coming weeks...

Photo caption:
1) Punctuation and her calf
2) A right whale breaching off South Wolf Island
3) A whale flukes off the Wolves

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