#15: Two new whales for the season

When the crew wakes up at 5 AM in September, it feels like the dead of night. It is much colder than any August morning, and the sun doesn’t appear until around 6 AM. Yet we were thrilled to get an early wake-up call on September 12, after four consecutive days on shore. The winds had settled from the passing weather systems, and there was no fog in sight. The R/V Nereid headed out at 6:15 AM hoping to find more right whales.

The first whales we encountered were Catalog #3390 and her calf. Her calf might be the best documented baby right whale, ever. Despite the fact that we have seen them regularly this season, we still enjoy photographing and watching the pair. Seeing a healthy mom and calf in the Bay of Fundy is an encouraging sight when working with a critically endangered species.

#3390 and her calf, traveling together. Photo: Amy Knowlton

Later in the day, we came across two more right whales that we haven't seen yet this season- Catalog #1332 and #1981. Both individuals had sloughing skin on their heads, but #1332 (named "Dollar" for a scar on his head that looks like dollar sign) had significant coverage on his head and body. The skin of a right whale sloughs off pretty easily, and with a 2 cm skin layer, they have a lot to spare!

New England Aquarium researchers use the condition of the skin as one of the parameters to visually measure a whale’s over-all health. Skin will come off naturally if an individual breaches or rubs against another individual. However, when the sloughing of the skin is excessive, lesions appear on the skin, and/or orange cyamids are present (as opposed to white cyamids), it is possible that the whale is less healthy than usual. Before drawing conclusions though, it's important to look at the other parameters for a health assessment, which are: the body condition (the fatter, the better!), rake marks (two or more parallel lines) around the blowholes, and cyamids around the blowholes.

#1332, "Dollar", with mud on his head and skin sloughing on head and body. Photo: Kara Mahoney Robinson

While Dollar still looks plump, he is exhibiting some minor rake marks by his blowholes in addition to the skin sloughing. Perhaps Dollar's health will improve during his time in the Bay of Fundy. The mud on his head is an indication that he's going down to the seafloor to feed, so maybe he just needs a few good meals! Hopefully our team and other research teams will see him often during surveys this fall and winter so that we can monitor his health.

We saw several other species during our survey. Near the end of the day, we spotted a pair of humpback whales and many fin whales. We spent some time watching a group of five fin whales traveling together, which is always a treat. Fin whales are the second largest animal ever to live on earth, next to the blue whale. There was plenty of bird life as well, including puffins, shearwaters, phalaropes and storm petrels.

Hopefully the chilly September weather will attract more right whales to the Bay. Last year, the field season ended with lots of whales after a quiet August. Perhaps as the weather cools down, the whale activity will heat up!

-Maria Hall

Check out Maria's first blog


  1. hi guys really enjoyed the post, where on earth has these been taken? Can't seem to find destination in the post?

    1. Hi there- our summer field seasons survey the Bay of Fundy in eastern North America.