Our first week of surveys in Bay of Fundy (BOF) was full of promise for a busy season full of right whales. Unfortunately, after August 2, everything shifted, and the right whales were gone. Fourteen-hour survey days are long, but when you are working with whales, the day flies by. When there are no whales, a survey day slowly creeps by. On some days, the mantra “negative data is still data” is the only thing that keeps us getting out of bed at 5 a.m. Nevertheless, the bay still provided some cool things for us to photograph.
Humpbacks! Not our study species, but still exciting to see. Plus, we pass along photos to our colleagues at Center for Coastal Studies, who manage the Gulf of Maine Humpback Whale Catalog.
This season, we have photographed a handful of basking shark dorsal fins, which we pass along to our colleagues at the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station.
And that is essentially what we saw and photographed for most of August.
August 27 was turning into a very similar day: beautiful weather conditions, not a right whale in sight, and frequent recitations of our data mantra. We photographed five basking sharks throughout the day and near the end of the day, decided to call it quits and head to Eastport, Maine, to fuel the boat in anticipation of another survey the following day. We had fueled the boat, cleaned up the data, put our cameras away, shut down the computer (you get the idea), and were heading back to Lubec, when lo and behold, there was a right whale fluke in the middle of Passamaquoddy Bay, between Eastport, Lubec, and Campobello Island.
And then we waited for 16 minutes for the whale to resurface, causing the cynics among our team to question their observing skills. But she did eventually resurface, and we managed to snap some photos, later identifying her as Catalog #3820, the 2008 calf of Catalog #3020. She hasn’t been seen in the Bay of Fundy since 2011, and right whales rarely come into Passamaquoddy Bay, so this was a very exciting sighting. Since she was taking such long dives, she was hard to track. We last saw her heading north and, hopefully, back into the more open waters of Bay of Fundy.
This is why we power through the slow days, weeks, and sometimes months. You never know what is out there for you to find or what could be right on your doorstep.