Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bay of Fundy Right Whales Know Where to "Chow Down"

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Big changes started taking place in near-shore Quoddy around 1980. Up until then, over 2 million Phalaropes crowded into Head Harbour Passage almost every year along with thousands of other birds, fish and whales of all descriptions. These beautiful tiny birds feed on Calanus finmarchicus, a small planktonic species know as a copepod, an abundant species that is at the center stage of an annual feast that has been going on for millennia . Since phalaropes feed on these copepods, they are the "canary in the mine" for the North Atlantic right whale, the endangered whale that comes north to the Bay of Fundy every summer to feed on these copepods too.

This past few years, researchers and whale watchers are reporting right whales in the approaches to Head Harbour Passage just off Campobello. This week, forty or more rolled in to "chow down" on the copepod blooms here. As Laurie Murison of Grand Manan Seabird and Whale Research stated in her blog Adopt Right whales:

The zooplankton tows done in an area where right whales normally occur (Grand Manan Basin) have been coming up with very few copepods and hence the reason the right whales are not there. Off the Wolves, processed copepods, courtesy of herring, are floating at the surface in long windrows. Obviously the herring are also feeding on copepods in the same area as the right whales.

Yesterday, Quoddy Link Marine reported a humpback whale up in Head Harbour Passage at Wilson's Beach and the Passage is literally plugged solid with fish including tuna, sharks and sunfish, thousands of seabirds, seals, porpoise, finbacks, minkes and much more. See the reports at the I Love Quoddy WILD blog.

It's only been a short decade plus a bit since adventure tourism operators and researchers started paying attention to this special place. Prior to that there were only a few of us recording the happenings in the area; my company Marine Research Associates, Dave Gaskin's research group from the University of Guelph, and one lone whale watch boat run by Don Hurley and Bill Haddon. Back then, we expected Head Harbour to be "plugged solid" and it was not unusual to encounter right whales around the Wolves or in Head Harbour Passage for that matter.Then something changed and, as elsewhere, the fish and feed were driven away from the shore. This is what today's observers seem to to think is the normal state.

The current abundance in the vicinity of Head Harbour Passage is actually what should occur each summer. The depauperate populations of the past decade or so are, I believe, something we created. Things seem to be returning to the former state of abundance and the area is returning to its rightful place as the primary "engine" that drives the Bay of Fundy and northern Gulf of Maine.

Why would anyone threaten this "gift from the Gods" by trying to turn Passamaquoddy Bay into an industrial port for LNG and other heavy industry?

Will we continue to perpetuate our sins?

That's my opinion today.Art MacKay

Photo Credit: Calanus, NOAA