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Whales and Wildlife, Catamaran Style

Month: November 2007

Our 2007 Season, and what a season it was!

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Hello everybody! It’s Danielle with Quoddy Link Marine to bring you a summary of our incredible 2007 season. I’m sorry to have taken so long to bring you this report but I have been settling in to my winter home in Ottawa, ON. Our 2007 season was really an amazing one, with the greatest number of humpbacks I have recorded in 6 years (21 total), amazing bird life and consistent finbacks all season long. I hope you enjoy this summary and some of my favorite pictures from the season.

Our Scout Boat played a very large roll this season, searching the offshore areas and locating whales so our catamaran, full of eager whale watchers could spend more time watching whales and less time searching our 25 mile radius from St. Andrews.

Our season started great, right away in June with finback whales not too far from our home port of St. Andrews, NB and our humpbacks were not too far behind. On July 2nd we had our first humpback whale sighting, a familiar whale identified immediately as Cork, a female humpback born in 2002 to Mica .

Only July 7th we saw Hobo, another familiar humpback from previous seasons. Hobo is of unknown age and sex.


On July 8th we were surprised to see a large humpback…very large for us…who turned out to be Rhino, a mature female of unknown age.

On July 9th we were very surprised to find new humpbacks back in behind the Wolves, an archipelago of islands in the open Bay of Fundy. And can I clarify, when I say new humpbacks I mean lots of new humpbacks. I IDed 14 humpbacks, 13 new, that day! Identifying humpback whales, done by the black and white pigmentation on the underside of their fluke, is the most favorite part of my job. With the help of Jooke Robbins, the director of the humpback whale program at Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA all but one of our 21 humpbacks from the 2007 season were positively IDed. The photo on the left is a close encounter with Scream, one of our new humpbacks on July 9th.

On July 22nd we were inshore watching some seals when John, our captain and owner spotted a male, freeze-branded grey seal on a reef off Casco Bay Island. I contacted DFO and the grey seal branded as “OX2” was identified! He was born on Sable Island (160 km southeast of Canso, Nova Scotia) on December 30, 1997 and weaned on January 19, 1998 at 63.5 kg and 120cm. Also, he has been sighted in the breeding colony on Sable Island on January 26, 2005. Thanks to Mike Hammill (IML) and Don Bowen and Jim McMillan (BIO) for their help in identifying this grey seal.

The bald eagle sightings were incredible this year. With this amazing raptor officially taken off the endangered species list in the States, the bald eagle is always a highlight on our departures…..no matter how fantastic the whale sightings are!

On August 6th I had the privilege of seeing an animal I have waited 6 years to see, an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and let me tell you, I was ecstatic! These bizarre looking fish, from the same family as pufferfish, average about 6 feet long and weigh 2200 lbs! The most obviously strange part is their shape, they look like a fish head without a tail. Through the course of evolution their caudal fin (tail) has disappeared and been replaced by a pseudo-fin called a clavus. Their diet consists mainly of jellyfish and to maintain their bulk they have to consume a very large amount. Ocean sunfish are covered in a slime instead of scales and they swim by a characteristic sculling motion of their dorsal and anal fins. They are the heaviest “bony” fish in the world, but its body is actually comprised of mostly cartilaginous tissues which is lighter than bone and can allow it to grow to such a large size which is uneconomical for other bony fishes. For more information on Mola mola visit “Ocean sunfish- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_sunfish

On September 2nd our second vessel, the M/V Island Link spotted a very young humpback whale in an area affectionately known as the Happy Hunting Ground. This inshore area is not common for humpback whales but in some seasons can be a very common area for much larger finback whales. This small humpback never raised its tail so I wasn’t able to get a positive ID, maybe “he” will show his “face” in the years to come.

In August and September one of the awesome sights we saw on many occasions were northern gannets. This impressive seabird can have a wingspan of over 2 metres. We saw both immature and mature birds, with the young ones reaching their adult colours at 4-5 years of age. One of the most amazing things about watching gannets is the main way they feed. They are plunge divers, sometimes diving from over 100 feet in the air down into the water to catch fish. Their streamlined body has air cells between the skin of its neck and shoulders and the muscle beneath. When a gannet prepares to dive these air cells will inflate and cushion the body as it strikes the water. Gannets are also one of only a few birds to have binocular vision, therefor both eyes can see forward at once.

Here you can see a northern gannet plunge diving and on the left is a small harbour porpoise feeding as well. All of the animals here are feeding on the same food source, herring!

A mature northern gannet with its pale yellow head and piercing blue eyes.

On September 7th we recorded a small pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins in Head Harbour Passage, a deep, relatively narrow passage which runs on the north-west side of Campobello Island, NB. We were not able to get any photos, they were travelling very fast but it was a very exciting sighting.

On September 13th we had 2 new humpback whales sighted, 2 “new” humpbacks. We saw both EKG and Mustache offshore towards the Owen Basin. These humpbacks were both sighted in 2006 by Quoddy Link Marine and recorded as “unknowns”. Unknowns are humpbacks who have not been previously recorded and who are not calves with their moms. EKG and Mustache were officially named at the 2007 Gulf of Maine Humpback Whale Naming Event.

This is a shot of Mustache on one of my most memorable days on the Bay in 2007. This young male was bubble cloud feeding, blowing clouds of bubbles under the surface and swimming sideways through the cloud, engulfing large amounts of prey (most likely krill).

On October 2nd, on our longest departure of the season (Thank You Matt, it was worth it), we sighted another new humpback whale….and immediately we knew it was a new humpback, solely by the size. This humpback was later IDed as Arrowhead, a large male humpback first recorded in 1976, and the first record shows him as an adult! How’s your addition? That means that Arrowhead is more than 31 years old and is the oldest humpback officially recorded in our part of the Bay of Fundy in the last six years.

This is Arrowhead.


On October 17th we recorded another new humpback! This whale was easily IDed as Spinnaker, a female humpback born in 2004. Spinnaker was sighted earlier this season off the coast of Maine.

Quoddy Link Marine did 2 very special trips this season 35 miles from St. Andrews to search for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. On September 16th and September 30th we made our way into the open Bay of Fundy and we were very successful finding many right whales on each departure. The most exciting part of both departures was the cow and calf pair sightings. I really can’t even put into words the privilege of seeing multiple mother and calf pairs of a critically endangered species (world wide numbers of 300-350 individuals). It was absolutely amazing. I want to take a moment to say a very special thank you to everyone who joined us on these 2 trips, the conditions were not the greatest and you were all troopers, THANK YOU!

A cow and calf North Atlantic right whale pair.

The broad, smooth, triangular flukes of an adult North Atlantic right whale.

Below are some photos of Cork, our little 5-year old female humpback that has become very dear to everyone at Quoddy Link Marine. We had one very special day with her when she seemed very interested in our boat. To the right you can see her rostrum (the front of her head) and some very lucky passengers on our upper deck. Her curiosity continued for both our morning and afternoon departures.

Our lucky afternoon passengers with a close encounter with Cork.

This is Corks’ fluke. You can see the unique, black, cork-like marking on the right hand side of her tail which gave her her name.

This was AMAZING. That’s me in the bow of our Scout Boat and Matt (one of our captains) leaning over the side and that is Cork RIGHT beside us. I didn’t take any pictures of her here, I just watched, with my eyes….in complete awe!

What an amazing season we had. The finbacks were so consistent, especially compared to last year. We had finback whale sightings around our inshore areas including Blacks Harbour, Bliss Island, Whitehorse and even directly off Head Harbour Light on the northern tip of Campobello Island. Our 2007 season was also amazing for humpbacks, my best in 6 years. In our little part of the Bay of Fundy we documented 21 humpback whales:

– Arrowhead
– Blanco
– Cork
– EKG
– Galapagos
– Grand Manan
– Hawksbill
– Hobo
– Ibex (Mr. Burns)
– Littlespot
– Mallard
– Mustache
– Pierce
– Puppet
– Rhino
– Scream
– Shockwave
– Spinnaker
– Thistle
– Waterspout
and our little unknown from September 2nd and 3rd.

I also wanted to included this video that Melanie, one of our naturalists and our lobster expert, took of Hobo breaching. This was a very special trip and we certainly do not see whales jumping out of the water on each and every trip but it does happen, and when it does it’s unforgetable.

It was a great year fpr humpbacks in the entire Bay of Fundy, with 178 identifed humpbacks, atleast 18 new indivduals and 19 calves (70 calves including the rest of the Gulf of Maine)! It is on the best years in humpback whale research in the Bay of Fundy.

As I sign off for the 2007 season I just want to thank all who joined us to experience the Bay of Fundy…..Catamaran Style. I also want to thank Jill, Melanie, Louise, Courtney and Dee….this summer was amazing, thank you girls!! And to John, Lisa and Matt, thanks for the willingness to go the distance, those extra 5 miles really do make all the difference and that’s why we recorded over 20 humpbacks this season.

Check back next May as we prepare for the 2008 whale watching season and make your way to St. Andrews and come and experience the Bay of Fundy….Catamaran Style!