Sponsor a Right Whale: Shackleton

Sponsoring a right whale through the New England Aquarium supports the critical research we're doing to protect this endangered species. This holiday season, give a sponsorship! It's a gift that gives back to our blue planet. Today's post introduces one of the whales available for sponsorship: Shackleton

Shackleton the right whale (Catalog #2440) was named after the Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. There's a good reason why: when Shackleton was just a one year-old, he swam up the Delaware River and made it as far north as Camden, NJ!

Shackleton in the Bay of Fundy. Photo: New England Aquarium

His adventure lasted for days, during which he was hit by a tug boat (it did not result in any serious injury). Fear of another vessel strike remained constant, and concerns for his health grew as he swam further upriver, since the makeup of the water was becoming more fresh (right whales are made for the salty sea!). The news footage below is from a recording (remember VHS?) from this ordeal:

Luckily, Shackleton found his way back to the Atlantic Ocean, where he faces other sorts of threats. He survived a second vessel strike, which was more significant and left a line of propeller marks on his body. He has also been through at least three different entanglements in fishing gear. Since he's overcome quite a few obstacles, we had to celebrate this year's milestone: Shackleton turned 20 years old!

Healed propeller cuts left substantial scars on Shackleton's body. Photo: New England Aquarium

- Marianna


Sponsor a Right Whale: Piper

Sponsoring a right whale through the New England Aquarium supports the critical research we're doing to protect this endangered species. This holiday season, give a sponsorship! It's a gift that gives back to our blue planet. Today's post introduces one of the whales available for sponsorship: Piper.
Piper is named for a small scar on her left flank. With some imagination the scar looks like a small airplane- a Piper Cub.  Unfortunately, she is now easily recognized in the field not for the little "Piper Cub" scar but more for her extensive scars, divots and marks left by multiple entanglement events (and a tagging event).
Piper (Catalog #2320) is named for one of her many scars.  On her left flank is her "Piper Cub".
Piper is an adult female that is at least 21 years old.  We don't actually know how old she is because she was never seen as a calf. Today Piper is successful reproductive female but there were times when researchers thought Piper's future was grim.

Shortly after being added to the Right Whale Catalog as # 2320, Piper was spotted entangled. The year was 1994 and only a single year had pasted since Piper was first documented by researchers. Her entanglement trailed out of the left side of her mouth. Was it just a short piece of line stuck in her baleen, was there a large chunk of gear in her mouth, or worse, had she ingested gear?  The entanglement persisted through much of 1995, but thankfully at some point late that year she became gear free. Things were looking up for the young female. She was documented in the spring feeding grounds of the Great South Channel and Cape Cod Bay, and in the summer habitats of the Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin. She was even seen a number of times in the wintering/calving grounds of the Southeastern U.S, although she had yet to be documented with a calf.  

Piper in 2004, Roseway Basin. Photo: Lindsay (Hall) Cooper-New England Aquarium

August 2, 2002 was a normal day for the research team on the R/V Neried in the Bay of Fundy. The team photographed many right whales that day and amongst them was Piper! As a young female she was important to the small, recovering population.  Researchers hoped that Piper would grow to be a successful reproductive female for the population.

However, just two days later a call came in from a Nova Scotian whale watch boat to report that they had sighted an entangled right whale. It was Piper!

Piper in the Great South Channel (east of Cape Cod, MA) in 2004. Photo: Monica Zani - New England Aquarium. Photo taken under scientific permit issued by NOAA.  Permit #655-1652.
This time the entanglement was worse; it was more complex and again it involved the mouth. Over the next couple of years, Piper would be documented in her normal habitats. She also became the subject of several unsuccessful disentanglement attempts. As her entanglement persisted, researchers worried about her as there was cause for concern for her long-term health. In the spring of 2005 there was a small glimmer of hope when Piper was photographed in Cape Cod Bay. The images were of poor quality and researchers could not determine if the entangling gear was present.  Could she be gear free?

Researchers would have to wait a long nine months before the answer was clear. In January of 2006, a New England Aquarium aerial survey of the wintering/calving grounds of Georgia and Florida photographed Piper. Our photographs confirmed it—Piper was gear free AND she was with a calf! 

 Piper is seen here in 2009 with her second calf .  Photo: Monica Zani - New England Aquarium.  Photo taken under scientific permit from NOAA. Permit #655-1652-01.
Piper became one of the team's Sponsorship whales because she truly has a story of survival. She is one of the team's favorites whales and she is known to travel to all five of the known right whale habitats, which allows us to provide numerous updates on her.  Piper has survived two entanglements and has contributed three calves (2006, 2009 and 2013) to the population in her relativity short life! She is perhaps as strong as the little airplane she was named for.

 Photo: Kara Mahoney-Robinson - New England Aquarium.  Photo taken under scientific permit from NOAA. Permit #655-1652-01.
- Monica


Sponsor a Right Whale: Calvin

Sponsoring a right whale through the New England Aquarium supports the critical research we're doing to protect this endangered species. This holiday season, give a sponsorship! It's a gift that gives back to our blue planet. Today's post introduces one of the whales available for sponsorship: Calvin.

When asked to talk about the challenges that North Atlantic right whales face, our team often brings up Catalog #2223, named Calvin, because her story encapsulates elements of threat and resilience that right whales experience. Sadly, it was when her mother's life ended that Calvin's story really began.

Calvin and Delilah (diving) in the Bay of Fundy, August 1992.

Calvin was born in 1992 to Delilah, a female first seen in 1981. During their first summer together in the Bay of Fundy, Delilah was struck by a large ship. Her death was not immediate, but the blunt force caused her to hemorrhage. A boater on the water that day photographed Delilah violently thrashing before she finally stopped breathing and became still. Delilah had died from ship strike with Calvin by her side. With no mother to guide her through the ocean and no milk to help her grow, researchers didn't think Calvin would survive—but amazingly she did.

Calvin, all grown up! 

Calvin showed resourcefulness and a surprisingly independent nature, and so she was named after the character in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Curating the Right Whale Catalog has allowed us to watch her become an adult and follow her exploits in various habitats. In 2000, she became entangled in fishing gear, but luckily was disentangled by the Center for Coastal Studies in 2001. She still bears the scars on her head, body and peduncle from that experience. Mind-bogglingly, based on our team's scar coding analysis, we know that wasn't Calvin's first entanglement—that occurred even before she arrived in the Bay of Fundy as an 8-month-old! We know that she's been through at least four other entanglement events as well. Unfortunately Calvin's multiple entanglements don't make her an anomaly, as 59% of the population have also been entangled more than once.

Fluking in the Bay of Fundy reveals entanglement scars on Calvin's peduncle.

Happier news arrived in December 2004 when Calvin became a mother for the first time (of course her calf was named Hobbes!) and she brought her calf to the Bay of Fundy, just as her mother had done 13 years earlier. She birthed her second calf in 2009, and perhaps she will give birth to her third calf this winter! Despite the sad circumstances in her life, she offers hope for the future of this species.

Calvin and her first calf in February, 2005.

How has our research benefited from studying Calvin, and how has Calvin benefited from our research? Our scientists were part of the team that necropsied Delilah to discover how she died, which later helped illustrate the troubling issue of ship strikes and influenced efforts to move the shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy. Philip, Marilyn and Scott published a paper on right whale weaning age (which included Calvin's case), and expanded what the scientific community knew about the age a calf could successfully wean. Scarring analysis work teaches us that Calvin has been entangled six times, which opens our eyes to this growing problem, and our Catalog work reveals that she is due to have another calf, which gives us something to look forward to.

Please consider sponsoring Calvin! Your sponsorship donation directly funds our program and helps us advance our research so we can aid conservation efforts. Thank you!

- Marianna and Marilyn


#26: Night of the Living Dead Whale!

As the end of October approaches, many cultures around the world will be honoring their dead during observances like Allhallowtide and Dia de los Muertos. Although the North Atlantic right whale population offers us a large pool of deceased individuals to remember, this year we have reason to celebrate the opposite: Catalog #4160, who was thought likely dead, is indeed alive! *cue spooky music* Let me explain:

December 2010: Sea To Shore's aerial survey team discovers Gannet (#2660) with a new calf (#4160) off the coast of Georgia. About a month later, the healthy pair is seen by the Florida Fish & Wildlife aerial survey team- Gannet nurses her son and he grows larger.

Gannet lies on her back, cradling her new calf in the waters off Florida. Photo: Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Taken under NOAA Research Permit #549-1759.

April 2011: Gannet and her calf have migrated safely from the Southeast all the way to Cape Cod Bay, where they are seen together by the Center for Coastal Studies.

July 2011: The calf is seen in Cape Cod Bay again, but this time Gannet is nowhere to be found. A calf alone at seven months old does not bode well, as calves will often nurse for up to one year before weaning. The outlook for this young whale is made much worse by the fact that #4160 now has numerous large wounds from an entanglement in fishing gear. The entanglement event is a possible cause for the separation of Gannet and her son. This is the last sighting of #4160, and his survival seems unlikely.

Gannet's calf, #4160, alone and with raw entanglement wounds. Photo: Center for Coastal Studies. Taken under NOAA Permit #932-1905.

September 2011: Gannet is sighted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in the Bay of Fundy during this month. She has not reunited with her calf. Gannet bears large entanglement wounds, new since the April sighting- it's possible that mom and calf experienced their entanglements at the same time. This is the last sighting of Gannet.

A sighting of Gannet in the Bay of Fundy proves that she, too, had recently suffered a severe entanglement. Photo: Tracy Montgomery, New England Aquarium.

Fast forward to August 2014: The Shelagh crew patiently tracks a whale that is traveling subsurface on Roseway Basin. After several attempts, photographs are finally collected before the whale disappears on another 18 minute dive. It's noted that the individual has entanglement scars and looks young.

#4160, photographed for the first time in three years. Not an easy target, either! Photo: Philip Hamilton, Canadian Whale Institute/New England Aquarium.

It wouldn't be until we were back in the office that we would have time to work on figuring out who that young individual was- matching is tricky work when the last photos you have are of a calf from three years ago! But the callosity pattern was there, the right lip ridges matched, the entanglement wounds had healed but the scars lined up- we had seen #4160!

Images on the left were taken by Center for Coastal Studies in July 2011 (under NOAA Permit #932-1905). Images on the right were taken by Canadian Whale Institute/New England Aquarium in August 2014. Looks like a match!

Though he isn't the healthiest looking animal, the fact that #4160 is alive amazes us! He represents a flicker of light during these past few months of darkness. Over the past six months three new entangled whale cases were discovered (with 12 cases currently open), and since July, four dead right whales have been found; while cause of death is unknown for two of the whales, the bodies of the other two were wrapped in fishing gear.

Gannet still has not been seen since September 2011, but now that we know #4160 is still kicking we are more optimistic that she may prove herself to really have nine lives (based on scarring history, we know that Gannet has been entangled at least four times). For now, we are content to focus on the fact that #4160 is alive- and there wasn't even a Dr. Frankenstein or a spell for resurrection involved (that we know of, anyway!).



#25: Return to Roseway Basin

After some time spent in Lubec after our first Roseway Basin voyage, the team prepared to depart for another two week trip offshore. On September 7, we pushed off the dock on Campobello Island and headed across the Bay of Fundy towards Yarmouth, N.S. During this transit we saw (but were unable to photograph) one right whale; we were disappointed but not surprised that we didn't see more, as the Nereid team had seen only a handful of whales during their last couple of surveys.

A rolling, flipper slapping humpack. Photo: Kelsey Howe

Nearing sunset, our observers spotted several playful humpback whales, and since we hadn't seen much action all day we steered the Shelagh towards them. We all had a blast photographing and watching them as they flipper slapped, lobtailed and interacted with each other. With flukes under the rising moon and sinking sun, it was a picturesque way to end our survey for the day.

One playful humpback! Photo: Kelsey Howe

We continued transiting towards Yarmouth- this destination was an important one because an AIS specialist lived there and our boat's AIS wasn't working properly. We tied up at the Yarmouth dock around 3:30 AM on Monday.

The Shelagh tied up in Yarmouth.

Once our AIS had been tinkered with and operating correctly, it was the weather that kept us ashore. We made the most of our time by doing boat chores and exploring downtown Yarmouth, which many of us were visiting for the first time.

Captain Joe reconfigures our AIS wiring while modeling our stylish Right Whale shirt!

We had high hopes as we left the Yarmouth dock on Wednesday morning, as the forecast was calling for light winds in the afternoon. As it often goes though, the light winds were not very light and we had a rough time at sea with very few sightings. Large swells continued the next day and made our time on Roseway Basin uncomfortable- the motion in the ocean was not favorable to our stomachs! With increasing high winds in the forecast, we found ourselves back in port late on Thursday night- this time at Cape Sable Island. Our local friend Wanda took us grocery shopping and introduced us to Dan's Ice Cream Shoppe in Barrington Passage (their ice cream is fantastic and officially "Right Whale Researcher Approved!"). In return, we attempted to take Wanda out to look for whales close to shore on Saturday, but the seas were not favorable and we didn't stay out very long.

The buoys (pictured on the right) snuggled safely back on the boat. 

At 4 AM on Monday, we departed Cape Sable and began surveying Roseway Basin when the sun rose. Along the way, we retrieved the two hydrophone buoys that we had deployed on our first Roseway expedition. The acoustic tracks that were recorded will be analyzed for whale vocalizations, so we're all curious to learn how many right whale calls were heard!

Sawtooth at the surface. Photo: Johanna Anderson.

Our first and only right whale on Roseway Basin was seen the following day. He was visible from a couple miles away because he was repeatedly breaching. The team was thrilled to have a right whale sighting, but we all laughed as soon as he fluked- we had a sighting of "Sawtooth" (Catalog #3714), named for his memorable sawtooth fluke edge. Sawtooth had already been seen a few times by the teams in the Bay of Fundy, so while we weren't documenting a new whale for the season, it was great to document the movement between the two habitats!

Notice the "sawtooth" fluke edge. Photo: Kari Signor.

Because there was a right whale in the area, we decided to do a plankton tow to see if there were any copepods in the water- copepods make up the majority of the right whale's diet. Spooning our sample into the storage container, it looked like there were some copepods, but the experts at Dalhousie University will inspect the sample thoroughly to determine what exactly was in the water column.

Moe and Kelsey handling the plankton tow sample.

Leaving Roseway Basin and transiting across the Bay of Fundy, we would come across another right whale. Sadly, this right whale would turn out to be severely entangled in fishing line. As of yet, Catalog #3279 has not been seen again. You can read about this encounter here. While it was a depressing way to end our voyage, all in all we had a successful trip- we collected a plankton sample, retrieved both hydrophones, and surveyed the most ground we could with the weather we were given.



#24: Our work in the Christian Science Monitor!

This week's edition of the Christian Science Monitor features our Right Whale Research Program on the cover and in the article "The Whale Savers!" The author, Doug Struck, spent time this summer interviewing researchers at our field station and even went out with the survey team on our research vessel Nereid

Mr. Struck details the history of the Program, the work we currently do to maintain and curate the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog, our research techniques and our collaborative efforts to understand and protect this species the best we can:
"But the North Atlantic right whale has perplexed researchers trying to understand why the increase in its numbers has been slow. The gap in knowledge isn't for lack of trying. Researchers spend months every year cruising the waters or flying in planes looking for the whales. They have used dogs on boats to help in the effort. They have scooped whale poop for analysis, listened in on the whales’ watery conversations, and fired crossbows at the animals to get a plug of skin. 
They have mapped the mammals’ genes, reached with long poles to capture whale breath, helped untangle the animals from fishing lines, stuck suction cups on them to record their dives, and taken hundreds of thousands of photos.  
They also have spent countless hours in meetings with governmental agencies and shipping companies to reduce the aquatic roadkill of whales from ship traffic."
Pick up a hard copy or read the article online, and also check out the Editor-at-Large's commentary blog post on environmentalism and whales.

Once again, we'd like to express thanks to those of you who donate to our program, sponsor a right whale or purchase right whale gifts- our projects discussed in the article and the people we hire to do them depend upon your contributions!


#23: Salps

From reading our blog you are aware that so far this season we have documented two newly entangled whales this summer/fall in the Bay of Fundy (Catalog #3279 and Catalog #4001).  The last couple of weeks of the field season have been frustrating since we have been plagued with high winds, rain and fog.  Inclement weather can be very frustrating so when we were faced with a small weather window we jumped at the chance to get on the water.  After days of high winds, we were able to sneak out a half day on the water thanks to our friends at  Campobello Whale Rescue Team (CWRT).  With two small and fast boats, a couple of extra people and a full disentanglement kit aboard we were able to survey most of the Grand Manan Basin in an afternoon. With the priority to search for either of the entangled whales, our afternoon was a joint effort between New England Aquarium, CWRT and Coastwise Consulting .

The afternoon proved to be gorgeous.  Unfortunately, we never found either of the entangled right whales.  However, we did find salps!

Salps are barrel or tube shaped planktonic, filter feeding tunicates.  Salps feed on Phytoplankton (plant plankton) and can respond quickly to phytoplankton blooms by budding off clones at astonishing rates.
A closer look of a salp chain in Amy's hand.  Photo: Monica Zani

We had been seeing salps for a few weeks and on one occasion the salps were so thick in spots that water appeared to have a purple tint to it.  I felt as if I were to hop off the boat I would be held up by a gelatinous sea of salps.

Amy and Monica stop and take a closer look at salps in the Bay of Fundy. Photo: Chris Slay/Coastwise Consulting

Though these look like such simple creatures, "salps appear to have a form preliminary to vertebrates, and are used as a starting point in models of how vertebrates evolved. Scientists speculate that the tiny groups of nerves in salps are one of the first instances of a primitive nervous system, which eventually evolved into the more complex central nervous system of vertebrates" (via Wikipedia, sourced from this paper by Lacalli & Holland). Isn't that amazing?!

And while you're learning about salps, why not check out their bizarre tunicate relatives, pyrosomes. Unless you're grossed out by 60 foot-long gelatinous tubes, you won't regret checking out this article and video (which also features our salp friends!). 



#22: When in Doubt Eat PIZZA!!!

A large fire is built to heat the oven to over 500 degrees.

The last couple weeks of any field season is filled with mixed emotions.  Frustration - where are the whales? Overwhelmed - we have so much to do before closing up the field station. Defeated - I didn't accomplish everything you wanted to during the field season. Everyone has a different way of dealing with all these feelings.  My answer to all of this is to fire up the pizza oven!  Pizza seems to make everything better, or at the very least it seems to make everyone happy.

Burning for over 6 hours it's almost pizza time.

We are very fortunate that many years ago two of our cooks built a brick and clay pizza oven in our backyard.  With clay from a local farm, the oven took many days of careful layering and curing to construct.  Many years later we are still enjoying the novelty of having our own clay pizza oven.

Toppings are set out and labeled for easy pizza assembly.

Pizza night at the field station is no small undertaken.  A fire needs to burn for at least five or six hours prior to cooking in order to properly heat the clay and brick to allow cooking at a temp over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

A freshly created pizza sits atop a cornmeal covered board prior to cooking.

Dough and sauce is made in the morning and by the afternoon a small group of us are grating cheese, chopping toppings and organizing it all for quick and easy assembly.  Once the oven is hot it cooks for about one and a half hours before cooling down.

Finished pizza line the table and are grouped into three sections (vegan, veggie and meat).
We had many Birthdays to celebrate this season  and we found it easier to just keep the banner up.



#21: The Lone Sea Wolf

The Nereid crew had been waiting patiently for another good weather window to survey the Bay of Fundy, and luckily September 26 held light winds and no fog for us. As we made our way into the Bay, we occasionally stopped and turned off the boat for a listening station, which allows us to hear distant whale blows. Though we heard and saw humpbacks on the horizon, we did not hear or see any right whales. During one listening station, Monica noticed some dolphins splashing around, and with her binoculars she realized that there were dolphins as far as the binoculars could see!

White-sided dolphins being very active. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

To determine species and estimate the group size (and to have some fun!), we decided to get a closer look. These were Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and we estimated this pod was composed of 400 individuals!

A great look at the identifying markings of a white-sided dolphin. Photo: Monica Zani

We were amused by their huge leaps out of the water and by the flurry of activity that would occur when chasing fish. We also caught glimpses of several mothers with calves, which evoked some "awww!"s from our otherwise very professional observers.

Not too long after continuing on our trackline, the observers on the bow called back that they were seeing something that looked like a lobe of a right whale fluke sticking out of the water. As soon as we got a better look through our binoculars, we realized we were looking at an orca! For many of us, this was the first time we'd ever seen an orca in the Bay of Fundy, and for some of us, this was our first orca sighting ever, so you can imagine the excitement on the Nereid!

Surfacing! Photo: Johanna Anderson

We stayed with the orca for a few dive cycles, and got close enough to get some great photographs of his remarkably tall dorsal fin. We used the images to compare this orca with the orca that was seen by our team in the Bay of Fundy in 2012- and it turns out that this is the same whale, fondly known to our team as "Old Thom." Although this killer whale had been seen in 2012, sightings of this species in the Bay of Fundy are very rare- CBC News even chose to write an article about it!

Our "Old Thom" was seen in the Bay of Fundy in 2012. Photo: Johanna Anderson

Rounding out our survey day was a sighting of a trio of humpback whales. One of the humpbacks was "Foggy," who was disentangled from fishing gear by the Campobello Whale Rescue Team last September. It was wonderful to see this whale survived the incident and had returned to the Bay of Fundy.

Foggy at the surface. Photo: Kari Signor


#20: Another Entangled Whale in the Bay

As the Shelagh was returning to home port from our second Roseway Basin voyage, we sighted a right whale in the Bay of Fundy. Even from a distance, we could tell that the blowholes had been injured at some point because the post-blowhole callosity and surrounding area was overwhelmed with cyamids, and the whale was not creating the signature V-shape blow when it exhaled. As soon as we got a closer look, we saw green line tightly crossing the head, similar to the entangled whale #4001 that the Nereid team found on September 5- but unfortunately, these individuals were not the same whale. This whale has been identified as Catalog #3279, a 12 year-old male.

Catalog #3279 with a tight head wrap cutting through the nares. Photo: Kari Signor

Our team could not attempt to disentangle him, and it was too late in the day to dispatch the Campobello Whale Rescue Team. Though we ached to do more for this whale, the best we could do was document the case as thoroughly as possible.

Orange cyamids covering raw wounds on the peduncle. Photo: Johanna Anderson

This is a terrible type of entanglement and we are eager to survey the Bay in the hopes of relocating #3279, but the weather has been uncooperative thus far. So we wait on land, frustrated at the weather and frustrated that yet another individual has to suffer the same fate as 83% of the right whale population.



#19: Flukes, Flukes and more Flukes

If you an avid reader of our blog then you likely know that we are able to individually identify right whales by using the unique callosity pattern found on the top of their head.  However, in some whale species it's the ventral side of the tail fluke that is used for individual identification. 

Example 1: The Sperm Whale

Image of a sperm whale taken in 2011
Photo: New England Aquarium

Look at the ventral fluke of this sperm whale.  By using both the shape of the wavy trailing edge of the fluke and the small white/yellowish scar on the right tip we are able to determine that we have seen this individual in 2011, 2013 and this past August (2014).

This 2013 photo shows the same wavy trailing edge and the distinct white/yellowish  scar on
the right ventral fluke tip.  
Photo: New England Aquarium
The now familiar fluke was photographed in August 2014 by Liz Burgess aboard the R/V Callisto.

Example 2: The Humpback Whale:
Humpback whales have a distinct pattern of pigmentation on their ventral fluke. The fluke can range from all white to all black.
This humpback whale is named "shark" for the shark-like head on the right ventral fluke. Can you see the shark face?
Photo: Liz Burgess/New England Aquarium

"Shuttle" (see the space shuttle on the right fluke) is another humpback photographed by Liz Burgess as she and the R/V Callisto crew surveyed Grand Manan Banks last week.

*A special thank you to Allison Glass Henry and Brigid McKenna for humpback IDs.



#18: A Feeling of Emptiness

We had a stretch of good weather forecast for last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  We were all excited for multiple boats on the water, good weather, long days, and lots of whales.  On Sunday we surveyed the western side of  the Grand Manan Basin with the  R/V Nereid.  On Monday, both the R/V Nereid and the R/V Selkie were on the water and completed an extensive survey of the basin in excellent sighting conditions.  Teams on both boats did get the opportunity to see a sperm whale  and a large (200 plus) pod of Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins. On Tuesday the R/V Callisto joined the survey effort and between all three teams we searched far and wide for right whales.  The Callisto crew and Selkie  crew went south of Grand Manan to an area called Grand Manan Banks. The Nereid surveyed far north and east (beyond the Bay of Fundy shipping lanes).  While the two boat teams on Grand Manan Banks sighted great numbers of humpback whales (30+) the Nereid team was faced with an almost empty feeling Bay of Fundy.  However, the crew was treated to an exciting sighting of approximately 30 white-beaked dolphins.

White-Beaked Dolphins swimming of the bow of the R/V Nereid were the highlight of our survey effort last week.
 Photo: Monica Zani/New England Aquarium

Update on our offshore team: The Shelagh and the offshore crew were tied up for a couple of days in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia  but departed Yarmouth in the early morning hours of Wednesday.  They surveyed Roseway in a 3-6 foot rolling ground swell and reported no large whales of any kind.  They will continue survey effort through Thursday (I will report details of that survey soon) and then head to Cape Sable Island for fuel and rest.  The weekend looks unfavorable for any survey effort both in the Bay of Fundy and offshore on Roseway Basin.



#17: Two New Entanglement Cases

On September 5th, the Nereid crew sighted an entangled 4 year old male, #4001, 2010 calf of Aphrodite, #1701. This animal had a single wrap of heavy rope over the top of the head and through the mouth. No trailing gear was detected (although the higher sea state precluded a careful look) and it is not known if the flippers are also entangled.

The Campobello Whale Rescue Team was notified and came out to the location but despite a lot of searching, relocation of this animal after it dove proved challenging - all the animals seen that day were on long dives and travelling far distances. Therefore, no disentanglement efforts were carried out. And this animal has not been seen since despite a lot of survey effort in the Bay.

#4001 sighted entangled in the Bay of Fundy
We are concerned about the fate of this animal as at only 4 years old, he is still growing and the line could become embedded and potentially lethal, a pattern we have seen with other right whales with rostrum wraps. To top off this unfortunate news, we learned that on September 4th, a Canadian patrol aircraft sighted a dead, entangled right whale south of Newfoundland well offshore and unable to be retrieved. The carcass was fairly decomposed and will probably not be able to be matched to the catalog.

Both of these events highlight the fact that entanglements are now the biggest concern for this small population (vessel strikes have been much reduced due to effective regulations - see paper link below). These two entanglement cases are the tip of the iceberg for this species - we know that 83% of the population has evidence of entanglement interaction based on scars and many of these animals have been entangled more than once (two animals as many as seven times!). We also know that injuries have become more severe in recent years perhaps a result of changes in fishing distribution and an increase in rope strength. There are likely many more right whales dying from entanglement than are documented and these events occur all along the eastern seaboard where ever fixed fishing gear occurs. There clearly is much more work to be done to better understand and find ways to mitigate entanglements to help this species endure.

To read more about entanglements and vessel strikes, here are two papers that NEAq team members have been involved in:


Ship strikes