While part of our team has been conducting very busy surveys up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the rest of us are continuing four decades of effort in the Bay of Fundy. Our 39th consecutive BOF field season had a slow start in June with no right whales and only two days on the water due to a plethora of weather challenges. We did document a lot of gear in the water, because the Canadian lobster season in the area remains open until early July, so in some ways, it is for the best that the right whales stayed away for the month of June.
Meanwhile, Team July has had five beautiful survey days in the past two weeks, covering a lot of ground.
While we have yet to spot a right whale, we have started to see more activity out there. Several other large whale species (humpbacks, finbacks, minkes), pelagic birds, and a few basking sharks have moved into the Bay.
We also had a rare Bay of Fundy sighting of five white-beaked dolphins and a group of at least 40 gray seals swimming northwest across the bay—gray seals themselves are common, but swimming in a large group far from shore is something none of us on the boat had ever seen before.
This is a good sign, because it implies that food resources have also moved in, which will hopefully draw in some right whales in the near future.
Sticking with the the Aquarium’s goal of a plastic-free July, we have done our best as acting ocean stewards to pick up rope debris and balloons when possible.
We have also passed along locations of abandoned ghost gear to DFO and other Canadian entities so that they can legally remove the gear from the water column.
So why do we continue to survey the Bay of Fundy when right whale presence here has fluctuated and decreased dramatically? Key word here is fluctuated. Presence has been very variable since 2010, but we still had decent numbers in 2011, 2014, and 2016.
Also, for the last 39 summers, this project has recorded so much more than just right whales: numerous other species (whales, dolphins, seals, sharks), as wells as vessel and gear traffic. Almost four decades of consistent data collection means that this project has had a front row seat to decadal variations in this habitat and to the effects of climate change on the Bay of Fundy. What a cool legacy that we all are so proud to be a part of and hope to continue.