#15: An Old Friend-Old Thom Returns to the Bay of Fundy

Our day started out gray, overcast and gloomy here in Lubec. As we loaded the R/V Nereid the fog horn from West Quoddy Light could be heard in the distance. Normally we hesitate heading out into the Bay of Fundy with the echo of the fog horn in the distance but not this day. The air was heavy, humid and a thick haze was cast over the town. There was no fog but the thick layer of humid, heavy air kept the fog horn working overtime.

The crew quickly went to work, gear stowed, computer hooked up and observers posted on the bow as the Nereid headed across the Grand Manan Channel with a  rolling ground swell and the uncertainty of the day ahead of us. We had the next 12 hours and 90 miles to remain sharp, on watch and vigilant in our efforts to document right whale presence or absence in this area.

The morning was atypically warm for September and the windshield of the Nereid fogged as we passed the warm air mass flowing off the island of Grand Manan. Trackline one was to the east and along the edge of the shipping lane. We saw no ships and an equal number of right whales. By trackline two the crew was well into second breakfast, or was it first lunch? Sightings of harbor porpoise and Molas (ocean sunfish) kept us sharp. Soon an odd shape lay at the surface but the difficult light conditions had the observers straining to determine what it was, debris, a log, trash...

The unexpected sighting was that of a leatherback sea turtle! The leatherback turtle is the largest of all sea turtles species and is a known jelly (jellyfish) feeder. While it's common for leatherbacks to be seen off the coast of New England and Nova Scotia, they are uncommon in the waters of the Bay of Fundy. Needless to say the sighting was different, exciting, and caused much talk among us. After a few photos it was time to get back to work and back on track.

A Leatherback sea turtle resting at the surface. Photo Credit: New England Aquarium/Molly McEntee
Trackline three dragged on as we checked off the miles, the sun made a brief appearance and so did the Oreos. In the distance a shape was spotted. What was it? No blow was seen but a single, dark shape/figure was seen, gone and then visible again. Body parts (a term we use when we see flukes, bodies and flukes at a distance and often it indicates a right whale surface active group - SAG)? Was it a right whale? Briefly distracted by a breaching basking shark we continued to head to the mysterious figure. We had such high hopes. Then, without much warning we all saw it, a brief pause, a moment of silence among the crew and then someone broke the silence...."killer whale"!

The excitement was electric, of the six researchers aboard only three of us had the opportunity last year to see a killer whale on our last day of the season. Johanna quickly noticed a small notch on the trailing edge of the whales enormous dorsal fin- it was Old Thom. A known orca among the whale watches and researchers of the Bay of Fundy, Old Thom is more like a legend, a name you know but a figure you may wait years to see.

                          Killer whale Old Thom is recognizable by the small nick in the trailing edge of hid dorsal fin.                            Photo Credit: Johanna Anderson

When we arrived Old Thom was flipper slapping. Photo Credit: New England Aquarium/ Dan Pendleton

Thom quickly became interested in the R/V Nereid. Photo Credit: New England Aquarium Dan Pendleton
As Thom approached the Nereid we deployed a hydrophone to see if we could hear any vocalizations (we didn't). We also attempted to get some underwater footage of Old Thom. The video below shows Thom's interest in our research boat. The wire seen is the hydrophone, which Thom seems to have some interest.

— Monica

1 comment:

  1. So cool! Close approach by an orca? I'm jealous. Orca vs Sasquatch - my money's on the sea wolf.