I can’t believe it’s already that time of year again, time to say goodbye to our 2023 season. This post is something that I do every year and even after 22 years on the water with Quoddy Link Marine it never ceases to amaze me the differences from season to season.
I usually start with our first minke and finback sightings but this year I have to start with NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALES! It all started on September 30th where we found FOUR critically endangered North Atlantic right whales off Eastern Wolf. These were the first right whales to be seen in the Bay of Fundy in 2023 and for three of the whales it was their first sightings in Canadian waters this year! The whales we documented included (all sightings are submitted to NEAq and DFO…opportunistic sightings do matter!!):
- #1017, Batman, a male first seen in 1980 but not as a calf so his age is unknown
- #1820, Cello, a male first seen in 1988, not as a calf though so again his age is unknown. Cello holds a special place in my heart as I named him in 2018 as part of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium naming event. He was the first right whale I named and he was named for the callosity shape that resembles a cello and the white scar behind his blowholes that looks like cello bow.
- #3150, a male, born in 2001 to #2050 (father is #1818 determined through genetics). I documented #3150 in the Bay of Fundy in 2006, 2018 and 2019. Our sightings were the first sightings of #3150 in Canadian waters in 2023
- #3802, Portato, a female born in 2008, her mother is Legato #1802 and her father is #2201. Portato’s grandmother on her mothers side is Staccato #1014 and her grandmother on her fathers side is #1001 Fermata. Portato got her name from a lineage with musical names. Portato in music denotes smooth, pulsing articulation. I documented Portato in Fundy in 2009, 2011 and 2016. This was also the first sighting of Portato in Canadian waters in 2023.
- #4191, a female, born in 2011 and her mother is #3130. I was IDing #4191 in the field by the wavy leading edge of her left fluke. #4191 was the third NARW that we documented that was their first sighting in Canadian waters for 2023.
We spent time with right whales on 21 departures between September 30th and October 21st, introducing ~1000 passengers to this critically endangered species. Claire and I just hope many left feeling our passion and with a better understanding of these urban whales. With only ~350 of these whales in world they need all the support they can get and not just from the researchers and policy makers but from people like YOU! If you want to learn more about North Atlantic right whales please check out my previous posts about my time spent at the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium held at the end of October in Halifax, NS.
Another highlight of our 2023 season was on July 30th, on our evening departure on the Wolves Bank we found Old Thom, the famous orca of the Bay of Fundy travelling with ~ 150 Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Old Thom is an adult male orca that has been documented in the Bay of Fundy since 2005 and he is often seen in the company of dolphins. Our sighting was only the second time Old Thom has been documented north of Grand Manan as he is typically seen between Nova Scotia and Grand Manan, NB. It really was an evening filled with black and white magic.
The third sighting I want to highlight is on August 10th, right in Passamaquoddy Bay we documented a great white shark preying upon a young seal. This sighting was raw, fierce and incredible, the shear power of the shark was awesome and to witness that power was something I will never forget. As with all whale sightings I also submit shark sightings, and for white sharks that data goes to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in MA. My images of the white shark were good enough to confirm the individual is not in their catalogue but we don’t quite have enough images to add the shark to the public logbook. But Claire and I still had the opportunity to name the shark and we decided on Sikolat, a Peskotomuhkati word for shark. The shark was sighted in Passamaquoddy Bay and we recognize and acknowledge we operate on the unceded territory of the Peskotomuhkati Nation.
Now, on to the rest of our regularly scheduled season…..
The weather was wild this season, not just for us but all over the world with fires and floods. We dealt with a lot of fog and rain for the first 5 weeks of our season but that didn’t stop us from getting out on the water and having some great sightings even if it took some patience at times.
We started on the 15th of June and we had consistent minke whale sightings right from the beginning of our season. The life in Head Harbour Passage was abundant this year and even right until the very end of October there were still multiple minkes, seals, eagles and large groups of harbour porpoise in the Passage. It was great to see Slice and some other familiar minke whales in the area again this season, we even have some regular passengers who come out every season with the hope of getting the chance to see Slice (you all know who you are!!).
Finbacks were inconsistent this season, which is a trend that has been seen off the northeast coast of Canada and the US over the past few years. Our first finback sighting was on June 24th and the most abundant and consistent sightings were the last week of August and the first week of September. We did have some familiar fin whales back in our area that we could recognize from the shape of their dorsal fins. We also sighted a mom/calf pair on July 31st off the Wolves, always a very special sight to see.
This year we documented 14 individual humpbacks in our area. I do want to mention there were more individuals sighted by our fellow whale watchers but I am only including the whales that we documented and sent data/images down to Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA. The majority of the humpbacks were young and yet to be named and 3 we saw quite a bit are yet to be matched in the Gulf of Maine Humpback Whale Catalogue curated by CCS. 2023 did see the return of Cork and Chevron, 2 adult humpbacks we are very fond of at Quoddy Link. Cork is a whale I have been watching since 2004 and she is very near and dear to my heart. When these 2 come together they often form a lengthy association that may last for weeks and they are often quite “sleepy” at the surface. It’s so great to see all of the behaviours from these whales including the dramatic breaches and lunge feeding to restful and peaceful time at the surface.
We saw lots of harbour and grey seals, groups of harbour porpoise and bald eagles on almost every departure. We saw Atlantic white-sided dolphins on 2 trips and sharks and tuna on many trips but you really have to keep your eyes on the water for the fast moving predators…like we often say, “the more you watch the water the more you’ll see”.
The seabirds were abundant in Head Harbour Passage again this season with large numbers of razorbills and murres seen from June-August. We saw northern gannets and Bonaparte’s gulls as well. We did not see as many shearwaters as we typically see but we did have a week or so in July where we saw large groups of storm petrels right in Head Harbour Passage. There were very few puffins sighted in our area but that is the norm for us. But bald eagles were amazing and we had the privilege of watching a nest with 2 eaglets grow up and fledge, it was fascinating to watch.
It’s always hard to say goodbye to a season but to finish on such a high note with the right whales leaves us all with a buzz for 2024. We saw whales on 98% of our trips for 2023, which is great especially considering the visibility issues created by the Bay of Fundy fog. On behalf of the crew of the Quoddy Link I want to thank all of our passengers, our regulars and our first-timers, who joined us aboard the catamaran, your excitement for the Bay keeps us going, helps fuel that passion for wanting to share the whales and wildlife of Fundy with all of you.
We hope you all have a wonderful winter, stay warm and safe and look out for each other. Keep an eye on our Facebook page as I will keep posting all throughout the winter and spring. Our bookings for 2024 will open in the new year but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to send me a message.
We look forward to taking you out on the water in 2024 and showing you the whales and wildlife of the Bay of Fundy….catamaran-style!
Quoddy Link Marine
Bay of Fundy
St. Andrews, NB