Right whales scarce in Bay of Fundy
By BRUCE BARTLETT
investigating the links between algae blooms in the Bay of Fundy, known as red
tides, and right whales.
There is a significant red tide
bloom in the bay this summer and the right whales are scarce, said Dr. Moira
Brown of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass.
"We have only seen about a dozen animals," she said from
Lubec, Me., Friday, where observers are located for their 25th year of
researching the marine mammals.
Marine mammals may be avoiding
bay because of algae
"We are sampling
plankton to see if it is affected by the red tide. We are also doing something
that's not very glorious, we are collecting right whale poop," she said.
Right whales grow up to 17 metres in length and may weigh
up to 100 metric tons. They have large mouths with fringes known as baleen and
feed by filtering huge amounts of water through their mouths, swallowing small
but plentiful items especially copepods.
whales are scarce, other whale species that feed on fish, such as humpbacks,
are plentiful in the Bay of Fundy this summer.
whales range from Florida to the Bay of Fundy and detailed observations can
only confirm the existence of about 350 animals.
each year is different, a similar red tide bloom occurred in 1983 and the
whales stayed away, Dr. Brown said.
Red tide is the name
for an algae bloom that casts a reddish tinge to the water. When eaten by clams
it makes them potentially deadly to humans, causing paralytic shellfish
Right whales may ingest the red algae, or
small organisms feeding on the algae, but scientists do not know what impact it
has on the whales, said Dr. Brown.
There is no evidence
it makes the right whales sick but it does appear to make them go somewhere
else, she said.
Next week a group from the Center from
Coastal Studies plans to travel to a second right whale habitat off the tip of
Nova Scotia, known as Roseway Basin.
They plan to base
themselves out of Clarke's Harbour to carry out their observations.
Roseway Basin is the other designated conservation area
for right whales in Canadian waters, she said.
haven't been out there by boat in about 10 years because we have had so many
right whales in the Bay of Fundy," she said.
we have had over 200 in the Bay of Fundy by now."
whales really need to feed this time of year, so they could be elsewhere if the
food is unpalatable to them in the Bay of Fundy, she said.
Peter Wilcox, whose family has run whale tours from Seal
Cove, Grand Manan for many years, has only seen one right whale so far this
Although he doesn't discount the red tide
connection, he believes the cool summer may be responsible for the lack of
right whale sightings.
"We had a late spring and some of
the food they eat ... develops in salt marshes and if you had lower
temperatures than normal some of that food source might not be developed to the
levels they need," he said.
On a recent trip he saw about
20 humpback whales in an area of the bay known as the prong. There are also a
number of finback whales off Grand Manan, he said.
Everything is about a week to 10 days behind in growth
because of the cool weather, including the Puffins on Machias Seal Island, he