After finding several right whales on our last survey day of August, we were admittedly not too optimistic that the whales would stick around in the Bay of Fundy for the two weeks between our August and September field sessions. However, when whales were photographed off the Wolves (a group of islands to the northeast of Campobello Island) over multiple days at the beginning of September, we felt increasingly hopeful about documenting them.

#3392 on September 1. Photo: Kelsey Howe, Coastwise Consulting.
The Wolves make for a beautiful backdrop! Photo: Heather Pettis, Anderson Cabot Center

When “Team September” was back in position, we steered the Nereid toward the islands and documented six individuals on September 6! Five of the individuals had been seen in August, which was a little surprising- they weren’t in a hurry to leave. The sixth whale who had newly joined was Cassiopeia (Catalog #4041), a female born in 2010 who is a rare visitor of BOF.

Cassiopeia was a new individual for September. Photo: Amy Knowlton, Anderson Cabot Center
#3908 has open wounds from entanglement in fishing gear. Photo: Johanna Anderson, Anderson Cabot Center
#3991 prepares to dive. Photo: Marilyn Marx, Anderson Cabot Center

We conducted surveys on six out of fourteen days, and our team logged hundreds of miles and documented numerous other large whales (finback, humpback, minke), harbor porpoise, dolphins (white sided, white beaked, orca), large fish (tuna, mola, basking sharks), and seals (harbor and grey).

A close look at an ocean sunfish. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom, Anderson Cabot Center
A pod of white-sided dolphins. Photo: Marilyn Marx, Anderson Cabot Center

Our last survey day was September 19, so we ran tracklines in the Grand Manan Basin, where right whales historically have gathered due to plankton aggregation. While we didn’t find any right whales there, we did see “Old Thom,” the lone orca who has apparently become an annual visitor of BOF. In the morning, Old Thom rolled and then waved and slapped his pectoral fin. He also lobtailed multiple times and breached once. We saw him again in the afternoon but he was travelling quickly- while it was sad to watch him head further and further away from us, it was fascinating to witness how fast he can swim! He may have been heading towards one of the large pods of white-sided dolphins we had passed (over the course of that survey we counted at least 145 dolphins!).

Kelsey and Johanna photograph the orca. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom, Anderson Cabot Center
A look at the orca's flipper. Photo: Kelsey Howe, Anderson Cabot Center
Old Thom lobtailing. Photo: Johanna Anderson, Anderson Cabot Center

After our final peek at the Basin, our team switched gears and focused on hauling the Nereid, cleaning the field station, and packing up our gear. After four two-week sessions of field work (and two three-week offshore cruises in the Gulf of St. Lawrence) over the span of four months, the team was ready to head home and get some rest. While right whales didn’t exactly flock to BOF this summer, we were pleased to find that the ones who did venture in stayed for a significant amount of time- which meant they were finding plankton in quantities worth sticking around for. Interestingly, we would continue to receive sighting reports of Catalog #3991 off the Wolves into October; the Quoddy Line Marine whale watch saw her there on October 8! Thanks to their documentation, and assuming she did not leave BOF since arriving, this means she was a resident for at six weeks (at least)!

An October sighting of #3991- look at those fall colors coming in! Photo: Danielle Dion, Quoddy Link Marine

This work is made possible in part by the generosity of Irving Oil, lead sponsor of the New England Aquarium’s North Atlantic Right Whale Research Program.