Two days passed after our first survey, and we were back on the water on July 29 to see if more right whales had entered the Bay of Fundy. This would turn out to be an amazing day for us: fantastic weather, three times the number of right whales than July 26, exciting behaviors, and the collection of a biopsy sample and two poop samples!

We left the dock at 6:15 a.m., and by 8:15 a.m. had found two right whales together. One of the whales was Catalog #3780, and the other was #2201, who I enjoy seeing because his unique scar and memorable past sightings make him relatively easy for me to identify (and on a team with remarkable ID skills, it helps to have a few obscure IDs in your back pocket). #2201 was born in 1992 to #1001, “Fermata,” and paternity genetic data shows that he passed his genes on by fathering #3802, “Portato” (who we saw later in the day!).

Thunk! #2201 takes a flipper to the head. Photo: Monica Zani

We were pulled further north and watched three familiar “faces” (#2479, #3292, #3310) in a surface active group (SAG). In the video below, you hear Philip calling one of the whales “Scoliosis,” which is the actual name of #2479 because of the serious spinal curvature. Unfortunately, “Scoliosis” looks a bit unhealthier than he did at his last sighting.

#3310 lifts his head. Photo: Johanna Anderson
Scoliosis' back. Photo: Johanna Anderson

Click on video, not the play button!

By the end of the morning, we had photographed seven individuals (#3908 and #4080 were the other two not mentioned above) in this northern area and proceeded to continue our trackline survey by heading south. Along the way, we counted six ocean sunfish, 10 basking sharks, and about 50 white-sided dolphins. After heading north on the following trackline, we happily encountered more right whales. These whales were feeding at the surface, which is a relatively rare behavior for this area, as the whales typically find their food deep. The sea had calmed to a glassy surface, and it felt peaceful to watch these whales slowly cruise around and eat.

Three whales feed together. Photo: Kelsey Howe

Click on video, not the play button!

One of the whales looked young and unfamiliar, so we decided to collect a biopsy sample of skin and blubber for genetics (we’ll explain this in greater detail in a future post). We were also able to collect poop samples from two different whales! By the end of the day, we had photographed a total of 18 different whales, including two old males: #1716 (first seen in 1982) and #1813 (first seen in 1988). There were other whales in the area that we couldn’t get to since the sun was setting and we had to dock before dark. It was a very successful survey that seemed to indicate an influx of right whales.

Keeping watch as long as possible.