A research team led by
Moira Brown, right, based out of Lubec, Maine, has counted more than 140 whales
in the bay since it beaan looking on An. 1, including 11 mother-calf pairs.
Number of right
whales up in Bay of Fundy Oceans Last decade has seen a turnaround, with
about 22 calves born each year: researcher
JOHN CHILIBECK AND CHRIS
On the odd day
when the curtain of fog has lifted on the Bay of Fundy over the last two
months, whale researchers have been thrilled with what they've seen.
The North Atlantic right whale has had a comeback after a
dismal showing last season.
"Last year was terrible - we
counted only 55 whales the whole season;' said veteran researcher Moira Brown
late last week. "And when we were out last Sunday and Monday, the weather was
good for two days, which is a miracle this year, and we saw more than 55 whales
in those two days."
All told, her research team based out
of Lubec, Maine, have counted more than 140 whales in the bay since they began
looking on Aug. 1, including 11 mothercalf pairs.
a great number. To be able to count that many individuals in a two-month whale
season and know that the mothers are still alive and the calves have made it,
all the way from Florida to the Bay of Fundy, that's a good field season for
It's by no means a record in the 32 years scientists
have been counting the whales, which swim up every season from their southern
calving grounds, but it is part of a positive trend. A little over a decade
ago, Brown was depressed to report that the right whale population was
decreasing by 2.5 per cent a year, with females giving birth to only 11 calves
on average between December and March off of Florida.
last decade has seen a turnaround, with an average of 22 calves born each year.
This year wasn't far off the mark with 21 calves born - only one has died so
far that researchers know of and they don't expect to see or count every one of
them in the bay this season. The population of the rarest of all large whale
species is now on the rebound, going up by two per cent a year.
Considering that right whales were nearly driven to
extinction at the dawn of the 20th century - they were a favourite target
because they were slow and so full of blubber that they floated to the surface
after they were harpooned - scientists such as Brown are fairly optimistic.
From only perhaps a dozen a century ago, the animals are now believed to number
between 400 and 500.
The whales have more protection from
ship strikes than they've ever had. In 2003, Brown and her colleagues at the
New England Aquarium in Boston successfully convinced the International
Maritime Organization to change shipping lanes, the first time they were ever
amended to avoid an endangered marine species.
thanks to funding partners such as Irving Oil and the Island Foundation in
Marion, Mass., research and education efforts are having an impact.
However, the whales are still getting tangled in fishing
gear. About threequarters of the whales show evidence of scarring, which isn't
always a problem, but can be deadly if the ropes entangle a fin or mouth. When
infections take hold, the creatures can have difficulty swimming or eating.
"We've seen some whales this year with some pretty severe
scarring with encounters with fishing gear, and again, that happens throughout
their range. And it's such a difficult problem. We've been trying to deal with
this problem since 1996, and that's a fairly long time now, and there's no
silver bullet answer. And so we continue to struggle with that
" Brown said last year's anomaly of fewer whales
spotted could be explained by oceanographers. In 2010, fresher water came from
the Arctic on the Labrador current and warmer water came in from the Gulf
stream. The mix in the Gulf of Maine disrupted the normal plankton
distribution, and the whales sought their favourite food elsewhere.
If the whales keep procreating at the current rate, Brown
said the population could double in 35-odd years.
don't think we'll see 1,000 right whales while I'm alive, but the next
generation should, if we keep going this way," she said. "I wouldn't have been
able to say that five years ago. So the population is inching up and as long as
the whales do their part and keep having babies, and the conservation efforts
work and in the next few years we figure out how to stop entanglements in
fishing gear, humans are doing a pretty good job to change the outcome for an