A curious endangered North Atlantic right whale was spotted during a whale-watching excursion on Tuesday, which was once a common occurrence but is now drawing onlookers to shore.
The young whale, which was a calf in 2019, was spotted off Campobello Island by the Quoddy Link Marine tour boat. They contacted the Canadian Whale Institute, which tracked the whale as it swam along the coast of Deer Island, to Eastport, Maine, and back into Canadian waters toward Bay of Fundy.
Institute scientist Moira Brown was on the boat tracking the whale. She said everyone was thrilled to see a healthy young whale.
“It was a great day. It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s always good to see a whale that was a calf last year. Now we know that whale is still alive and thriving.”
She said ideally the whale would return to the middle of the Bay of Fundy, away from coastal activity.
“I hope it will be soon,” she said.
Eight years ago, right whale sightings would have been more common in the Bay of Fundy region.
But changing water temperatures and the redistribution of plankton mean they have moved into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they are unfortunately less protected from entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with ships.
Last year, 10 right whales were found dead in Canadian and US waters. There are approximately 400 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.
“We see a few here every year, but not as many as before,” Brown said.
“People know about right whales here, they’ve been in the Bay of Fundy, you know, for four decades…When we were along the shore, especially in Eastport, there were people standing there , on the shore and on their terraces of their houses, checking.”
Danielle Dion of Quoddy Link Marine was not there to see the whale, but said it was “an incredibly special sighting”.
“For our passengers, this is a unique opportunity,” she said.
Brown said that when the whale was spotted, the Institute was able to tell the port pilot who was on an incoming ship, so he could slow the ship down and be careful not to get too close to the yearling. .
A “curious” yearling who has traveled a lot
The New England Aquarium has identified the whale as the 2019 calf of Right Whale #2791.
Brown said he was seen earlier in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with his mother and was also seen earlier in 2019 in Florida, where he was born.
“It’s a young animal and many species of mammals, young animals are curious,” she said. “So this little whale has already had some great trips… This is her backyard, the east coast of Canada and the United States”
She said this whale would have been born between December 2018 and February 2019. She said it’s pretty typical for young whales to leave their mother’s side when they are about a year old.
She said he looked healthy and seemed to be a good size.
“He was certainly swimming well and making his way.”
Since 2017, 30 right whales have died in waters off Canada and the United States, two-thirds of them in Canadian waters. Since then, mandatory slowdown zones for vessels have been established, and static and dynamic shipping closures have also been put in place, based on whale sightings.
However, Dion says it’s hard to read this whale sighting as a sign of anything other than a curious whale.
“There’s not much you can read there about the evolution of patterns,” she said.
She said the young whale was one of seven born in 2019. This year there were 10 births, but two died due to suspected ship strikes.
“As sad as the story of the right whale may sound, it’s really important to have hope,” she said. “If we can prevent these entanglements and prevent collisions with ships, then these whales have a future.”