Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cetacean firsts for the Bay of Fundy in 2012

With increasing water temperatures it is expected that species not usually seem in colder waters such as the Bay of Fundy, may be found, as the temperatures rise.  This has certainly been the case for ocean sunfish, Mola mola, and leatherback turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, with increased sightings the last few years.  To find an Arctic species may be less likely, however, in August 2012 a bowhead or Greenland right whale, Balaena mysticetus, was seen several times in the Bay of Fundy, the first by the New England Aquarium in the Grand Manan Basin, then by whale watchers off Nova Scotia, then possibly from the wharf in Hall Harbour (photos were not conclusive), and lastly off Grand Manan Island.  This is the first known sighting of a bowhead whale in the Bay of Fundy.  There may have been bowhead whales ranging much further south during and after the last ice age, but their exact range during that time is not known.

Bowhead whale photographed by Christine Callaghan off the coast of Nova Scotia.
The bowhead whale was quite elusive which would be expected from a whale that spends most of its time in relatively vessel free waters of the Arctic Ocean and not habituated to constant engine noise.  These whales are also hunted along the shores of Greenland and occasionally Baffin Island by Inuit as part of their traditional hunts, possibly increasing their aversion to vessels.  Having spent time studying bowhead whales in the Arctic in the middle 1980s, it was still thrilling to see this very lost whale.  Ironically, there was a sighting of right whales off Northern Newfoundland this summer - possibly a part of a whale exchange program :-)!
Photograph taken by Sarah McDonald December 25 that spurred the recovery of the dolphin from White Head Island.

Male, striped dolphin collected from White Head Island on December 26, 2012.

The second new cetacean species for the Bay of Fundy was a striped dolphin, Stenella coeruleoabla, unfortunately found dead on White Head Island, a small island off Grand Manan Island.  All of the circumstances of the stranding are not known at this time.  The male dolphin was collected December 26, after being on the shore for a few days.  The cold temperatures prevented deterioration, with only a small amount of scavenging.  The dolphin has been stored in the freezer of a local fish plant until a detailed necropsy can be performed in the future. Many thanks to the White Head Island fishermen who helped lift the dolphin onto the trailer and to the fish plant for storing it. 
Striped dolphin shrink wrapped for storage at a local fish plant until a detailed necropsy can be performed.
Striped dolphin wrapped for storage in freezer.

Short video on how to shrink wrap a dolphin.
Striped dolphins are more usually seen in warmer waters to the south but have been seen off the Scotian Shelf, Gulf of St. Lawrence and even Newfoundland, but no known records exist for the Bay of Fundy.

The Bay of Fundy never ceases to surprise.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! This is very interesting and a little bit unnerving. It seems the winter temperature is also warmer... seeing much less ice in the bay where we live in Downeast Maine than we saw when we first moved here 20 years ago.