#13: Two More Right Whales in the Bay!

As we sailed into the Bay of Fundy in the early morning of August 28th, I felt a mixture of hope and excitement for the possibility of again experiencing the rare event that had occurred a few days before during a survey: sightings of one of the most endangered whales in the world. Fog and bad weather had kept us in on recent days, and the presence of a reporter and a cameraman from CBC made us even more anxious for the third right whale sighting of our season. Our day began with observations of the typical but amazing sightings that we have in the Bay of Fundy. We saw a large splash from a breaching basking shark, a glimpse of a fin whale (the second largest animal on the planet!), and numerous harbor porpoise popping in and out of the waves. It was around 9 AM when our wishes for another right whale encounter came true.

Fluking right whale. Photo: Kelsey Howe

When a right whale is spotted, everyone on the boat instantly jumps into action. Cameras are passed to the two observers on the bow, the "whale watcher" takes notes about any behaviors and works to identify individuals, and the rest of the team carefully watches to keep track of the whale as well as look for others nearby.

Lots of mud on the head of #3991! Photo: Kelsey Howe

A right whale with broken callosities and a mud-covered head was found peacefully skim-feeding at and just below the surface. When feeding, right whales open their mouths and glide through the water so that their baleen traps tasty plankton. When they dive down to layers of plankton at depth, they sometimes hit the seafloor headfirst and get covered in mud. To find out what species of plankton this whale was eating, we dragged a net from the stern for a few minutes to collect a sample and it quickly filled with plankton.

Tux, Catalog #3401. Photo: Amy Knowlton

We followed the whale, identified as Catalog #3991 (a female born in 2009), and soon she joined a second right whale, identified as #3401, Tux. Tux is a male born in 2004 to #1701, Aphrodite. The pair traveled together and seemed playful, as some rolling was observed. We stayed with them until we had enough photographs to match them to individuals in the Catalog and to visually assess their body condition.

Tux and #3991 travel together. Photo: Amy Knowlton

Although we did not see more right whales the rest of the day, we saw a pod of over 100 white-sided dolphins, several large ocean sunfish and jumping tuna. We hope for more right whale sightings on our next day out!


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