Finback Blow
Photo courtesy of Surge Inc. Empire of the Whales

Tardiness of right whales no cause for alarm: expert

July 25/02

   GRAND MANAN - Right whales the endangered giants of the North Atlantic, are making a slow return to the Bay of Fundy this summer.
    They're trickling into New Brunswick waters behind schedule, giving scientists yet another mystery to solve in their unpredictable migrations.
    "Right whales are not here in any great numbers yet," said Andrew Westgate, of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station.
   "It's been, I don't want to say a late year because we don't really know what late and early is, but it's not like it has been the past couple years when the whales have been here early in July."
   Mr. Westgate said the delay isn't causing concern.
    "As of last week there was only a single right whale in the bay that anyone knew about. I think a few more have moved in over the past week," he said. "Things are just a little bit slower to get started."
    For such a large, slow-moving animal, right whales are difficult to track. While the whales are known to winter off Florida then move north during the summer in search of food, there are some that don't follow that pattern.
    Where they go is unknown.
   Attempts to track the animals with monitoring tags have failed because the whales lose the tags as they bump each other.
   The whales weigh about 50 tonnes, making it difficult to create a tag that can withstand the abuse.
   Mr. Westgate said the recent pattern of arriving in the Bay of Fundy in July is also a change from decades past.
   "Typically in July the whales have been showing up at least the past couple years. Back in the '80s they typically weren't here in any great numbers until August. This seems to me to be more of an '80s kind of a year. "

Humback & Right Whale Breaching
Photo courtesy of Surge Inc. Empire of the Whales

Right whales back in bay

August 05/02

   Whale watchers will be able to glimpse the rarest large animal on Earth with the annual migration of North Atlantic right whales into the Bay of Fundy now underway, nearly a month late.
   "The right whales have returned to the bay," said Aubrey Reeves, a crew member on the schooner D'Sonoqua, which escorts whale watchers into the Bay of Fundy daily, as part of Grand Manan Sealand Adventures.
    "We've seen a couple of whales, including a couple of different mother and calf pairs," she said, adding members of the Sealand Adventures tour operation spotted the first whales last Wednesday.
   "The past two days we've been seeing quite a few," she said. "About eight or nine a day.
   Whale watching is rated as the third most popular activity by visitors to New Brunswick, says Alain Bryar, a spokesman for province's Tourism and Parks department. Eating fresh seafood, and visiting the province's beaches rank first and second, respectively.
   As a result, tour operators, and whale watchers were getting a little anxious, because the whales usually make it up to the Bay of Fundy from southern waters near Georgia and Florida in early July.
    "They're here now," said Karen McDonald, who co-owns Whales-n-Sails on Grand Manan Island with her husband Allan.
   "It's good for the island because it brings the tourists in" she said. "And (now) the island has been more normal for this time of year."
    Lisa Eldridge, owner of Quoddy Link Marine, a whale watching operation in St. Andrews, said the season has been very unpredictable.
   "It's been good, but it's been the kind of year where every day is a little unpredictable with the whales," she said.
   "At the beginning of the season we were seeing more finback (whales) than we're seeing now. But we're predicting the season will be great."
   Although right whales are a rarity near St. Andrews, Ms. Eldridge said it is not uncommon for many different whales to have what appear to be off years, in terms of migration patterns.
   "It's been very hard the last few years to predict how the season is going to be," she said.
   "The weather is changing and the warming (water) temperatures are affecting the patterns of the whales."
   Ms. Eldridge also said temperature shifts can affect the lifecycle of what the whales eat, creating differences from year to year.
   Adult right whales are usually 13 to 16 metres long, slow moving, and tend to stay close to the shore. Although the whales have been protected for about 60 years, and are considered endangered, it is estimated there are fewer than 350 remaining in the world. Collisions with ships account for nearly 50 per cent of their known deaths.