Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy, located between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is renowned for some of the highest tides in the world. In 1980, North Atlantic right whales were found in the Grand Manan Basin region when researchers from the New England Aquarium were contracted by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to assess the marine mammal distribution and abundance in the Bay of Fundy as part of an environmental impact study related to a proposed oil refinery in Eastport, Maine. That year, 26 right whales were sighted, including 4 mother and calf pairs. The refinery was never constructed and the New England Aquarium has returned every August and September for the past 28 years to survey the Bay of Fundy for right whales. The historical use of the Bay of Fundy by right whales prior to 1980 is not well known, however there were sightings of right whales in the Bay of Fundy dating from mid 1960s (Arnold and Gaskin 1972, Schevill 1968, Hay 1980, Gaskin 1991).
The lower Bay of Fundy is recognized as one of the five seasonally important right whale habitats along the American and Canadian seaboard. The area’s highest right whale concentration is the Grand Manan Basin, declared a conservation area by the Canadian government in 1993. From 2000 to 2005 between 62% and 87% of the total number of annual right whale identifications were made in the Bay of Fundy. In addition to the numerous sightings, the Bay of Fundy is also the only known summer and fall nursery area for right whales in Canadian waters.
[calf and seaweed in BOF] Right whale calf playing with seaweed in the Bay of Fundy.
The Grand Manan Basin conservation area in the lower Bay of Fundy is a key habitat for the right whale's’ recovery. The Bay’s strong tidal currents concentrate large quantities of copepods into patches on which right whales, including mother and calf pairs, feed. Potential hazards to right whales in the Bay of Fundy include vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. Two stewardship actions have been taken to protect right whales in this region: the designation of the conservation area and the relocation of the Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme. In addition, since 1997, whale watch companies who watch right whales abide by a voluntary Code of Ethics for Tour Operators. In 2007 fishermen will be encouraged to abide by a voluntary Code of Conduct for Fisherman. Fisheries and Oceans Canada have also been working toward the development of whale watching regulations to replace the current whale watch guidelines.
Roseway Basin is located between Browns and Baccaro Banks on the western Scotian Shelf, south of Nova Scotia. Whalers operating out of Blandford, Nova Scotia, in pursuit of fin and sei whales reported right whales in this region and other areas of the Scotian Shelf between 1966 and 1972. In the late 1970s researchers from the University of Rhode Island reported right whales during their aerial surveys of the region. More complete photo identification work was conducted in the early 1980s; New England Aquarium researchers had a record day in 1986 when over 70 individuals were photographed and identified. Researchers already knew about the Bay of Fundy summer and fall nursery ground, but a large portion of the population was still unaccounted for during that time of the year. Roseway Basin is believed to be part of the answer. Most individuals seen on Roseway Basin are juvenile and adult males and females without calves. Some of the largest courtship groups have been witnessed in that region. In 1993, Roseway Basin was recognized as a conservation area for North Atlantic right whales.
[Big SAG on Roseway] Large groups of right whales are often seen socializing in the Roseway Basin Conservation Area. [There are some good aerial shots of SAGs, do we have any, NMFS does]
There are currently no internationally mandated shipping lanes across Roseway Basin, but large vessels transiting the western Scotian Shelf, to and from the ports of Saint John, Halifax, the eastern United States and Western Europe regularly cross the area. This traffic increases the probability of a vessel strike, a major cause of mortality in right whales. Researchers are presently investigating different stewardship measures to reduce the impact of shipping on right whales in Roseway Basin. Entanglement in fishing gear is also a potential hazard. As in the Bay of Fundy, fishermen will be encouraged to abide by a voluntary Code of Conduct for Fisherman. Dr. Taggart and his colleagues at Dalhousie University have investigated the probability of a right whale becoming entangled in the Grand Manan Basin and Roseway Basin Conservation Areas.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a large inland sea (250,000 km2) bordered by Quebec, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Between 1995 and 2005, 32 different right whales (approximately 10% of the known population) were photographed by whale watch naturalists, but otherwise little is known about the presence of right whales in the region. More than 25 years of photo-identification research has shown that not all right whales use the two conservation areas (Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin) in the summer and fall, but other habitat areas have yet to be identified. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is potentially an important right whale habitat since mother and calf pairs have been sighted there in the summer months. At the moment, there is only one recognized nursery ground in Canadian waters, located in the Grand Manan Basin conservation area. However, several of the mothers frequenting the Gulf of St. Lawrence do not bring their calves to the Bay of Fundy and even their daughters do not use the Bay of Fundy. Therefore, there is speculation as to whether mothers may pass on their preferences for summer and fall habitat areas to their offspring.
Most of the right whales sighted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are referred to as “irregular” or “offshore whales”, a term used to describe a class of right whales that behave differently than the majority of the catalogued population such as those that migrate between Florida and the Bay of Fundy. Offshore whales are mostly seen in habitat areas further from the coast and there are often large gaps in their sighting records.
Crabscar is a male first seen in 1981 in the Great South Channel and he has a rather interesting sighting history similar to those whales seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and characteristic of the sighting history of offshore whales. After he was initially identified, he was spotted every two or three years along the east coast of Canada or the United States until 1994 when he disappeared for 8 years. After 2002, he has only been reported in the Great South Channel and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Most of the reported right whale sightings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence occur at the mouth of Chaleur Bay and along the southern coast of the Gaspé Peninsula. Few right whale surveys have been conducted in this region. In 2006 the Canadian Whale Institute and the Centre d’Études et de Protection de la Baleine Noire du Saint Laurent initiated the organization of a network of local observers. Utilizing local mariners in collecting opportunistic right whale sightings, this network will contribute to our understanding of the importance of the Gaspé Peninsula habitat area to the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale.