Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Right Whale Researchers Migrate North

by Amanda Thompson

Our Right Whale Research Team has just moved to Lubec, Maine to begin their annual Bay of Fundy field season! This year will be the 31st consecutive year of right whale research up in the Bay of Fundy, started by Scott Kraus and two fellow researchers in 1980. For the the 2nd consecutive year Moira Brown will take a team offshore to survey for right whales on Roseway Basin, the other critical habitat for the species in the waters of Atlantic Canada.

On a rare calm day in the Bay of Fundy Monica Zani (behind) and Marianna Hagbloom stand on the bowsprit of the R/V Nereid searching for right whales. Photo credit: Zach Swaim, New England Aquarium

Every summer North Atlantic right whales migrate north along the Atlantic Coast to feed on the plankton rich waters, nurse their young and socialize. Every day that the fickle Bay of Fundy weather permits, the researchers will go out to the Grand Manan Basin in the middle of the lower Bay of Fundy on their 29 foot long research vessel, Nereid.

The Aquarium team photographs a right whales from the
R/V Nereid.

This year in addition to surveying the Bay of Fundy, we were fortunate enough to secure funding to conduct surveys for two weeks in the Roseway Basin’s area to be avoided, endorsed by the International Maritime Organization and implemented by the Canadian government in 2008. This specially designated area off the coast of Nova Scotia is one of only two critical habitats for right whales in Atlantic Canada (the second is an area in the Bay of Fundy)! This is an important summer habitat for the right whale and we are anticipating another productive and illuminating survey. To read more about last year’s survey click here and here.

View Larger Map
Roseway Basin off the coast of Nova Scotia

Team members on both surveys will take digital photographs of the right whales and then spend the bad weather days in the field station matching the ones seen to whales in the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. They will collect small skin biopsy samples and fecal samples for ongoing genetic, hormone and health analyses to add to what we know about the right whale family tree and our understanding of right whale biology and reproduction. Over the last two decades, the right whale data collected by the New England Aquarium team has been used by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada to designate two right whale conservation areas in 1993 that are now re-designated as two critical habitats in the 2009 Right Whale Recovery Strategy. The data was also used by Transport Canada to relocate shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy and implement an area to be avoided on Roseway Basin to reduce the risk of ship strikes.

Learn more about the Right Whale Project here, or if you are interested in sponsoring a right whale to support the project click here!

2010 Team members include NEAq researchers: Scott Kraus, Roz Rolland, Moira Brown, Amy Knowlton, Monica Zani, Jessica Taylor, Marilyn Marx and Marianna Hagbloom. Kara Mahoney will be taking a leave from NEAq education for two weeks to help us with our Roseway Basin surveys. We will be joined for the season by Yan Guilbault and Candace Borutskie from Quebec, Zach Swaim from North Carolina, Dan and Claudia Pendleton from Washington, and Jennifer Tennessen from Pennsylvania State University.

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