Tuesday, July 26, 2011

{Press} Right whales observed in Annapolis Basin

The Digby County Courier | Jonathan Riley | July 22, 2011

Residents on Shore Road and passengers on ferry saw endangered mammals

At least two right whales were in the Annapolis Basin this week.

Residents on the shore road and passengers and crew of the Princess of Acadia all saw the endangered whales.

“That’s extraordinary,” says Shelley Barnaby, the lead researcher with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises. “I have never heard of right whales in the Digby Gut. Just seeing a right whale is amazing.”

Barnaby was able to confirm the kind of whale from The Courier’s photos.

“The trailing edge on the fluke of the right whale is smooth where a humpback is serrated,” said Barnaby by telephone from Brier Island. “They also have a long smooth back with no dorsal fin.”

Whale watchers in the Digby area normally take guests to see humpbacks, minkes or fin whales. The North Atlantic Right Whale is endangered and there are only 400 of them still in existence.

Barnaby says the whales frequent the Bay of Fundy but usually on the New Brunswick side. Because the right whales usually spend their summers in the Grand Manan Basin, the Canadian government declared it a national conservation area in 1993.

“We might see five or six a year on this side. But the Grand Manan whale watchers see them all summer and fall. The whales are quite acrobatic. They breach, flipper slap and they [the whale watchers] even observe a lot of courtship activity.”

Residents along the Shore Road near the salmon cages first saw the whales around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20.

Ian Barnes runs the Admiral Digby Inn with his wife Carol.

“First I saw something dark like a long slow wave,” says Ian. “That was the whale’s back and then we saw its flukes. My wife screamed. It was really exciting.

“Do you know I sell hundreds of whale watching tours a year but that’s the first time I’ve ever really had a good look at a large whale.”

Barnes always tells his guests to keep an eye out on the Basin but these whales showed up between the change over.

Barnes says his guest see harbour porpoises and seals “frequently”.

Capt. Oral Hamilton was giving a tour of the bridge to a family on the Princess of Acadia when they saw a whale just before 3 p.m.

“It couldn’t have been any better timing,” says Hamilton. “The whale just popped his tail up there and posed for us as we were beside the Lifesaving Station [in Bay View].”

Hamilton says he wasn’t able to see enough of the whale to say what kind it was. He says he and his crew see whales in the Digby Gut “the odd time.”

A right whale “flukes” (dives) as it swims out the Digby Gut. The flukes of a right whale have a smooth trailing edge. Jonathan Riley photo

Dorothy Chirnside of New Zealand, a passenger on the ferry says a big crowd rushed to the ship’s rail to see the whales.

“We saw the big tale come right out of the water quite near the boat and then it was gone.”

Carol Lockyer of Digby’s visitor information centre says other guests last week reported seeing six right whales, a white-sided dolphin and a harbour porpoise just off Point Prim.

Paul and Alice Dugas of Digby reported seeing a minke whale just off the Digby marina last month. Bill LeBlanc and Harold Dugas also saw the minke.

Dean Kenley of Fundy Dockside says guests at his harbourside restaurant have also seen whales this year.

“We’ve seen them off the marina, off the wharf, off the Lady Vanessa,” says Kenley. “Some people in town don’t believe us, but we’ve been running this whale watch eight or nine years now and we’ve seen them in the Basin, off Victoria Beach and off the Lighthouse. I can’t say frequently, but often enough, we don’t have to go any farther than the mouth of the Gut to watch whales.”


Length: 15 m

Weight: 63 metric tons

Life span: 50 to 70 years historically but now 15 years, due to ship strikes and entanglements

Age at first breeding: females 9 years, males unknown,

Gestation period: 12-14 months; females give birth every 3 to 6 years

Diet: Plankton, especially copepods, strained through baleen plates in the mouth

Top speed: 16kmh for brief periods

Diving ability: to 330 m depth for 40 minutes


- stocky, mostly black whale with whitish patches on the head and belly

- no dorsal fin

- deeply notched "fluke" or tail.

- two blowholes make the spout a distinctive V-shape

Estimated population: 350 to 400

Status: endangered

Range: east coast of North America from Newfoundland to Florida. Birthing takes place off Georgia and Florida.

Calves are 3-5m long and weigh 1.5 tons when born

Right whales float when dead making them historically a convenient whale to hunt.

Source: Right Whale Listening Network, part of the Cornell lab of Ornithology


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