This summer is the 38th field season in the Bay of Fundy for the right whale team, and we’re entering the habitat with a survey strategy that will result in a dataset unlike any collected by our researchers in recent years.
Unlike previous years, the team will be surveying June through September in four two-week sessions, rather than eight weeks straight in August and September. We hope to gain a sense of how the Bay of Fundy may be used by right whales outside of our typical survey dates, since over the past eight years right whale presence in the Bay during those months has fluctuated significantly. Perhaps in June and July we will have zero sightings, or maybe there will be a handful or more- but since right whales appear to be more fluid in their whereabouts as a response to shifting food resources, we feel it is important to adapt as well.
As with any fieldwork, there were some logistical surprises as the season approached. Our research vessel, Nereid, required time-consuming repairs so arrangements for a chartered vessel were made. Quoddy Link Marine, a whale watching company out of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, runs the boat we will be using for June surveys. Their naturalists have made the company a dedicated contributor of right whales sightings to the Catalog, which is a big deal since they are on the water all summer and cover areas of the Bay we don’t. We are pleased to work with their crew as we patiently wait for the delivery of our beloved Nereid.
Another challenge we face is the lack of our dock. In early January, a historic herring brining shed separated from its pilings and became wedged into the pilings of our dock. Two of the pilings broke and need to be replaced, but obviously this is not a job that just anyone can do. If this sounds a little familiar, it’s because in 2015 we operated without our dock and shuttled back and forth to the Nereid with a tender.
LEFT: The brining shed against the dock. Photo courtesy: Bob Peacock. Right: Our damaged dock in 2015. Photo courtesy: Marianna Hagbloom.
Similar to previous years, members of our team will join and lead the team of the only dedicated right whale vessel survey effort in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Two two-week offshore trips are planned for July and August, and aerial survey support will help direct where the vessel will work. The amount of aerial survey effort has increased as a result of last year’s tragic mortalities and high rate of entanglement in fishing gear, and is providing a huge amount of data that will provide great insight into how this habitat is being used by right whales. In addition to collecting photographic and behavioral data, the offshore team will also tow for plankton and listen for whale vocalizations using hydrophones.
We’re looking forward to switching things up in the Bay of Fundy this year, and hope our readers are excited to follow along!