After a week of thick fog, rain, and strong winds prevented us from surveying in the Bay of Fundy, we finally got a small weather window and took advantage of it. On July 30, we pushed off the dock around 5:30 a.m. and started heading far to the east. Also on the water were colleagues from the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station (GMWSRS), who satellite tag basking sharks. Our relationship with them means sharing locations of our respective target species, which is extremely useful in such a large body of water. They also do regular plankton tows and provide insight into what plankton in the Bay are doing. We’re really lucky to have them in the area!
Shortly before 9 a.m., GMWSRS hailed us on the radio to report an entangled right whale. They took photos and kept track of the individual until we got there. We were so fortunate that their team was in that location and knew what to do! We made a call to the Campobello Whale Rescue Team (CWRT), who initiated a response and notified appropriate contacts.
Once we were on the scene, we quickly identified the whale as Catalog #3843, a 10-year-old male who frequents the Bay of Fundy. He was very skinny, had heavy cyamid coverage on his head, and his peduncle and flukes bore extensive raw wounds. He was towing a buoy at the surface, but we weren’t able to see the line or point of attachment to the whale. His behavior was curious as he would frequently turn 180 degrees close to the buoy, as though trying to create slack in the line. Later, after examining the photos and video and getting expert opinions, the consensus was that there was weight attached to the buoy. We would also learn that #3843 was seen healthy and gear-free just two months earlier, so towing however much weight would explain how his health declined so quickly.
Photos of #3843 show his deteriorated health. Left: The dip behind the head shows loss of blubber layer. Photo: Anne McGhie. Right: Significant wounds on the peduncle and fluke. Photo: Johanna Anderson.
Unfortunately, a mechanical issue would not allow the CWRT to make it onsite. After consulting with CWRT about how the Nereid team could help this whale, it was decided that we would stand down from taking action. Reaching the decision to not intervene was emotionally difficult for us, but the reality was that the safety of our team was at risk, plus we could have made things worse for the animal.
We completed our survey and an extensive search was conducted the following day despite the weather forecasting the formation of fog banks. We were joined on the water by the GMWSRS and CWRT, and by a Department of Fisheries and Oceans aerial team. Thick fog moved in quickly, and oftentimes our visibility was only a quarter of a mile. Many listening stations were held, and we chased phantom blows. Communication between the teams was key for covering a huge swath of the Bay, but #3843 was not relocated. We’re hopeful that someone will find him again, and that he will get the help he so desperately needs to survive.