Exploring New Territory to Find Right Whales

Our readers may be surprised to see a field season blog from the Right Whale Research Program in July, when typically we don’t begin the season until August. This year, we are doing things a little differently, because the right whales have been doing things a little differently.

We first noticed the decreased presence of right whales in the Bay of Fundy (BOF) in the summer of 2010, and although some years since then have yielded more sightings than others, overall BOF has not been the hotspot it used to be. This is likely because it actually has been a hot spot, as the waters of the Gulf of Maine are warming faster than 99% anywhere else in the ocean. As a consequence, copepods (the main prey of right whales), seem to have altered their presence, abundance, and/or timing of maturity, and so the whales must also change their habits to survive.

This map shows the currently known major habitats of the North Atlantic right whale, with designated critical habitat areas.

The majority of the researchers have gathered at our field station in the lovely town of Lubec, ME. Similar to last year, our team is splitting into three to broaden our survey efforts. One team has already conducted two surveys out of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and will continue to work out of there off and on for the next few weeks. Another team will leave by the end of this week aboard the Shelagh on an extensive voyage to survey Roseway Basin, the seas east of Nova Scotia, and the southern portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The team remaining in Lubec will be smaller than usual, but continuing  the Bay of Fundy/Grand Manan Basin surveys as has been done for the past 37 (!) years.

The town of Lubec, ME is where the NEAq Right Whale Research Program's field station is located.

We picked up our trusty research vessel, Nereid, from Moose Island Marine in Easport, ME, where she had some repairs done over the winter. She’s all fueled up and ready to go, and we’re hoping for our first day out in BOF this weekend!

The Nereid in 2016.