B.O.F. 2013

Until next time…

Well that about does it for this field season. It was one of the strangest ones on record for those that have been doing this for decades – this was the NEAq team’s 34th year in the Bay! We ended the season having no sightings on board Selkie. In fact, this was the first time Grace has been to Fundy and not seen a single right whale, and she has been coming here for 20 years…but negative data is still data, as they say, and this year proves that despite all that we do know we still have a lot to learn. It will be very interesting to see where/when the whales show up next!

Eubalaena, where art thou?

Seals and sharks
Puffins and porpoise
Minkes and fin whales
They hide not from us

But where are you, right whale?
It is you that we seek
Who numbers so few
Whose future seems bleak

Eubalaena we’ve watched you
And followed you close
All whales need saviors
But you need us most

For thirty-four summers
Why, even this past
You have gathered in Fundy
You have gathered en masse

But this year is different
This year is odd
There is scant food to be found
Scarcely one copepod

This year you’re gone
You found a new place
And we cannot find you
You left us no trace

Eubalaena, where art thou?
If you are not here
No one can find you
Our hearts fill with fear

Eubalaena, where art thou?
Come back to the Bay
For we cannot protect you
Now that you’ve gone away

poem with animal drawings next to verses

Not the *right* whales

When looking at the weather forecast last night as we always do, it looked like today might be good for at least a half day out on the water. The winds were light in the morning and would blow 10-15 later in the day. Since we haven’t had much of an opportunity to go out this season, we decided to go for it. When checking the weather again this morning as we always do, the forecast had changed. For once, though, it changed in our favor. It was now going to blow light winds all day with calm seas and not pick up until the evening. Could it be? Could we get a full day in?!

Nope. The channel was a bit choppy, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate what the Bay is doing. When we got out of the channel however, we immediately noticed it was not smooth flat seas with light winds. It was about a sea state 2 already, which is definitely workable but not the calm state we were expecting/hoping to see (see our previous blog post, A Lesson on Sea State, to get an idea of what the sea states look like). Will soon spotted some blows, and even though they didn’t look like typical right whale blows, we are always willing to investigate anything and everything. Especially when there are so few whales around, during this season for example! When we made it over to the whales we quickly realized they were three humpback whales, resting at the surface.

whale fluke with brown spots
The “muddy” flukes of a humpback whale. Photo: Dana Cusano
white and blue whale fluke
Flukes of a humpback whale. Notice I was having a hard time keeping the camera straight! Photo: Dana Cusano

Shortly after, only about half an hour from these photos, we were in a sea state 3 and it wasn’t even 11 o’clock! Grace called up the Nereid to see what they were experiencing farther out in the Bay and they also had quite a nasty sea state. They have the ability to check the weather on their boat and the forecast had indeed changed. Now they were calling for 15 knot winds in the afternoon going to 20 knots later on this evening. That’s a far cry from light winds and way too windy for us to work comfortably and safely on our exposed little Selkie.

We decided to call it a day after only 3 hours out. We cast the CTD for good measure and headed home. By that time it had already turned into a sea state 4…we had a bumpy ride back, albeit a short one thankfully. We have a windy few days ahead of us so we won’t be back out into the Bay for a little while. Hopefully next time mother nature behaves a little better and does what the meteorologists think she will!

Perhaps the fog is lifting?

Figuratively, anyway. After a very slow month, as in zero right whales spotted by either team in the Bay, a mom/calf pair has been spotted! Last Wednesday reports came in that there was a mother and her calf in the Lubec Channel. The Nereid crew rushed to the scene, which didn’t take long considering they were so close…

map of Lubec Channel
The yellow house is the location of the field station, the red star is where the mom/calf pair was found, and the yellow star is where they SHOULD be!

Very few right whales have ever been spotted in this area, and while it is pretty neat to have them so close to shore, it was also pretty nerve-wracking for us. Just past the bridge from Lubec to Campobello there is a lot of lobster/fishing gear in the water which would put them at a high risk for entanglement. Luckily they headed in the opposite direction toward Eastport where they likely (hopefully) headed back out towards more open water. They haven’t been spotted in the area again, and we haven’t had a good day to go out and survey the Bay to check for them. I can only hope they stick around for when we can make it out next. It would be great to finally get some BOF 2013 data! Read more about the Nereid’s experience on the New England Aquarium’s research blog.

Slow start

We finally managed to get out on the water on Monday (as you may recall from last year the weather here is not overly cooperative) but it seems we were not missing much…we saw a couple of minke whales, a bunch of harbor porpoises, and a fin whale. The Nereid (the boat used by the New England Aquarium’s research team) went out as well and they saw a few humpback whales to add to the list of cetaceans in the Bay. But as for the right whales? Conspicuously absent. The Nereid surveyed a good portion of the Bay already this year and the right whales just aren’t here yet. In fact, the New England Aquarium has decided to take a small team offshore to look for right whales in Roseway Basin and Lurcher Shoal, off of the coast of Nova Scotia. They left this morning and will be at sea for 6-10 days. Hopefully they come back with news of lots of whales, preferably headed this way of course!

Our day out wasn’t all disappointment however. Not only did Tricia get to see a whale for the first time, but she got to see a breaching basking shark! Not many people can say that! Unfortunately as soon as I got the camera out he promptly disappeared, but check out the website for our friends at the Shark Identification Network, founded by the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, for great photos and information about the sharks in the area.

The weather for the weekend looks promising, so hopefully my next post will be filled with great news about all the mom/calf pairs that have shown up! How is that for optimism?

Getting Settled

Nestled against the Canadian border, at the tippy top of the U.S. East Coast, lies the tiny town of Lubec.  This town effectively marks the beginning of the Bay of Fundy, a region known for having the largest tidal range in the world (up to 50 feet in some places!).  Lubec’s tides range about 18-22 feet, which is still enough to make a dramatic difference in the landscape every 6 hours or so.

welcome to lubec sign on lamp post
Welcome to Lubec

I suppose the rain is good for being productive inside, and it did manage to stop long enough for a light-hearted game of soccer.  Today’s weather features pea soup fog along with the rain, so we’re still waiting to go find some moms and calves for our project.  Given the bumper crop of calves and our luck in Cape Cod and the Southeast this year, we’re hopeful for some good data from the Fundy feeding grounds!

As a parting note, I’ll leave you with a couple of neat comparisons:

water in foreground with island in background
Looking across to Campobello Island (High tide)
sand in foreground with island in background
Looking across to Campobello Island (Low tide)


two houses
View from my window without fog
two houses partially covered with fog
The view from my window with fog