Friday, May 25, 2007

What is photo identification?

I mentioned in the last post that fin whales can be identified individually by the blaze and chevron that is on their right side. Whale researchers or cetologists use these patterns to gain information on a variety of factors such as population estimates, migration patterns, reproductive rates and site tenacity. The patterns are photographed and compared to species catalogues which have been compiled by research organizations. The whale is identified to see if it has been in the area on previous occasions or if it is a whale that has never been sighted before. In humpback whales, we look at the underside of the tail. These can be anywhere from all white to all black and variations in between. To identify right whales, the callosity pattern in photographed. This is found on top of the whale's head as well as their chin and lip ridges. Scarring is also useful when looking at individuals. Whales are also named and numbered. With humpback whales, the names are derived from the what the pattern on the underside resembles. For example, the whale at the top is called "Shark" because of the shark on the right side. The whale on the right is named "Obsidian" because of the black coloration.

Callosity pattern of a North Atlantic Right Whale

Saturday, May 19, 2007

More Bay of Fundy Whales

As we wait for the new season to start, I'll continue to write about the whales that can be seen in the Bay of Fundy off Brier Island.

Usually the next species to arrive after the minke whale is the fin whale, or finback as it is commonly called. This species is the second largest whale in the world, and actually the largest that we regularly sight in the Bay.

Fin whales are baleen whales that can reach lengths of 24metres, the largest ever recorded was 27 metres. They have been dubbed the "Greyhounds of the Sea" because they can swim very quickly at times reaching 35 kilometres per hour. They also are assymetrical in coloration. On their right side they have a pattern called the blaze and the chevron which interestingly enough is different for every individual whale. Also, their lower right jaw is white and if you were to look on the left side of the whale you would see that it is dark.

Fin whales can be found worldwide and in Canadian waters, they are considered a species at risk!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bay of Fundy Whales

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is, "What kind of whales am I going to see and how many?" Though I would very much like to predict that for you, I can only tell you what you may see. In May, the whales are only starting to arrive from their winter breeding grounds. Usually the first to arrive are the minke whales. This species is the smallest of the baleen whales, only reaching lengths of 10 metres.

This species is easy to identify as when they come to the surface, they don't have a visible spout when they exhale as the larger whales do. The first part of the whale that does surface is their pointed nose and fishermen gave them the name "little piked whales" because of that physical feature. Also, they have white bands on their pectoral flippers. Minke whales are seen worldwide and are the most numerous. It is estimated there are up to a million of this species in the world. Sadly, they are the only whale that is being commercially hunted today.
As for how many, baleen whales are solitary by nature so they are usually by their lonesome or if feeling social may be with one or two other individuals. These are temporary groupings and are not pods. The pods are formed by toothed whales who are in permanant group structures such as the orca who form family groups.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A New Boat for Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises

Hello everyone and welcome to our new blog! I'm hoping that throughout the summer I can keep you updated as to sightings in the Bay of Fundy and also any announcements we may have for you.

Our biggest announcement is the addition of the Cetacean Search, a 42 ft vessel that is jet propulsion, giving her a cruising speed of 22 knots! This will enable us to reach the whales much quicker and allow for more time observing them. The Cetacean Search will also serve as our research vessel and because of her speed we will be able to cover more area in a day. Also, because there are no propellers it means it is safer for the whales too!

Research and education are the main reasons we are in this field. The research is vital to the studies being conducted in the Gulf of Maine. Our area of the Bay of Fundy is not surveyed constantly by other organizations and they rely on data that is collected by others to fill in the gaps. We contribute annually to populations studies of the critically endangered Northern Right Whale and also Humpback and Fin whales. Our main focus of study is the humpback whale and we work closely with Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and Allied Whale.

To those of you familiar with us, you know we had the Cetacean Quest. She is now in Newfoundland where she will be taking people to see icebergs rather than whales. Though sad to let her go, we are very excited with the new boat and we know you will be just as pleased!

We are looking forward to starting our new season. We are unsure of the start up date as of yet. We are anxious to get out there because there have been reports of whales by local lobster fishermen. From what I understand, there have been sightings of humpbacks and minke whales.