#10: Dolphins in the Desert

Hi!  I'm Tracy, here for my second field season in the Bay of Fundy.  I've been working at the New England Aquarium this past year flying aerial surveys for wind energy development, and I'm super excited to be back on the water for these two months of research.

You can imagine the team's excitement on our fourth consecutive day in the Bay when we saw our first right whale at 7:09 AM in the Grand Manan Channel! Right whales in that area are unusual, as it's not a typical habitat for them- the Channel is relatively shallow and narrow compared to the Bay. Catalog #3742 made us work for this important sighting and didn't make it easy for us to photograph him! He was traveling northeast through the Channel and only surfacing for one or two breaths between dives. Luckily, Philip “Hawkeye” Hamilton was at the helm and had an uncanny sense of where and when #3742 would surface, so we were finally to catch an identifying shot of him.

Camera shy #3742, born in 2007. Photo: Meagan Moeyaert

We spent the rest of the morning surveying the central part of the Bay of Fundy, which had unfortunately turned into a right whale desert. We were getting sort of bummed about our lack of sightings when we spotted a pod of dolphins! Normally we see Atlantic white-sided dolphins here, but these were bigger, with taller dorsal fins and a white patch on their lower back.

What dolphin species are these? Photo: Tracy Montgomery

White-beaked dolphins!! White-beaked dolphins are larger and more robust than the more common Atlantic white-sided dolphin, with adults measuring 8-10 ft long and weighing 400-700 lbs. They feed on small mesopelagic fish, such as cod, herring, and haddock, as well as squid and various crustaceans.

Extremely acrobatic and high jumpers! Photos: Tracy Montgomery and Amy Knowlton

White-beaked dolphins are endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean but have only been seen a handful of times in the history of the project's surveys, so this was an unusual and exciting sighting! As we approached, they began to ride our stern wake, breaching high out of the water and playing in the waves behind us!

We then moved northeast, heading to a part of the Bay where another research team had seen a couple of right whales. We finally spotted our second (and last) whale of the day, Catalog #3893, at 3:59 PM, nine hours after our first right whale sighting. Like our earlier whale, it was frustrating to photograph because it was traveling- after having moved some distance, it would only surface for a few breaths every ten minutes. Kelsey spotted his “flukeprints”- patches of still water that surface after the whale has pumped its fluke underwater- and so with such a good pinpoint of the location of the whale, we were finally able to photograph its head!

#3893 was born in 2008. Photo: Heather Pettis

After four straight days on the water, the team decided to stay on land for a day due to low counts of right whales. Hoping that more right whales would move into the habitat while we were on land, we would get more "bang for our buck" in survey effort. While we still haven't had large aggregations of right whales, the team did have some other really interesting sightings, so stay tuned for our future blogs about our past few days on the water!

- Tracy Montgomery

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