#21: A Season of Unusual Sightings

As our season is winding down, we've been thinking about some of the unusual sightings we've had over the past couple months. We've mentioned some of them in earlier blog entries, like the unprecedented number of right whales off The Wolves (the island chain many miles north of the usual habitat) and the crazy cloud we saw in early September. But there have been other things that have caught our attention and made us wonder: What's going on this year?

One of the avian species we see every year are puffins, the cute football shaped black birds with the colorful striped beaks. Typically we only see four or five on any given day, but this year was a different story. Nearly every day we were out this season we had lots of puffins--puffins alone, in pairs or trios and occasionally in flocks of 8-12! And in late August we even had a rare sighting of an albino puffin! Why all the puffins? We have no idea, but we've certainly had fun watching them.

There were two other bird species that seemed much more prevalent this year than in the past: Northern Fulmars and Jaegers. Fulmars are usually found offshore, so the number of sightings we've had is surprising. What's great about fulmars is that they always seem a little curious about us. They literally turn their heads to check us out as they fly by.

Jaegers are aggressive seabirds that engage in kleptoparasitism--harassing other birds to force them to drop food they are carrying. As with puffins and fulmars, we've had a bumper crop this year. Find out more about all three of these interesting seabirds here.

The Bay was hopping with Bluefin tuna, especially in September. It's always exciting to see schools of these magnificent fish leaping out of the water as they pursue their unlucky prey.

In addition to the birds in the Bay of Fundy, we've also had an influx of humpback whales in areas that are usually the exclusive domain of right whales. It's not that humpbacks aren't seen in the Bay, they are, but they tend to aggregate further to the south and east. In years past, a big humpback count would be three in one day, but on a recent trip we counted 15! One of the humpbacks spent several minutes flippering, i.e. slapping it's long (12')pectoral fin against the water. Quite a bizarre sight when you're used to the black , paddle-shaped and comparatively stubby flippers of the right whale. The latin name for humpbacks is Megaptera novaeangliae, which means "big-winged New Englander"... it's easy to see why it got that name!

All of these species are not uncommon in the Bay of Fundy, but what has been interesting is the number of them. Why are so many humpbacks, fulmars, jaegers, puffins and tuna in the Bay this year? And could there be any correlation with the right whales' unusual northerly distribution, not seen in 30 years? Nature, as always, holds puzzles that we have yet to figure out.

To see more photos of unusual species we saw this season click here.

Photo Captions:

1) An albino puffin in the Bay of Fundy

2) A fulmar checks us out as it flies by the boat

3) A parasitic jaeger looking for trouble

4) T he back half of a leaping tuna

5) A humpback whale waves it's long flipper in the air

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