Searching for North Atlantic Right Whale Feeding Grounds

The Species at Risk team at Fisheries and Oceans Canada St. Andrews Biological Station is seeking information on the whereabouts of groups of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Canadian waters. While two areas, Roseway Basin and Grand Manan Basin (Bay of Fundy), have been identified and protected under the Species at Risk Act as Critical Habitat, researchers believe that there may be other areas where whales gather that are currently unknown.

With funding from the Species at Risk Program, biologists Lei Harris and Danielle MacDonald have begun a campaign called "Wanted! North Atlantic Right Whales" in search of these areas. Posters are being placed on wharves in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador to solicit information on sightings of North Atlantic Right Whales.

North Atlantic Right Whales are one of the most endangered cetaceans in the world. Many spend their winter months in Atlantic waters of Florida and Georgia and migrate north to typically spend June to October in the waters of the At-lantic Provinces. While they mostly summer in the Bay of Fundy and off the south shore of Nova Scotia, there are also reports of sightings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off Newfoundland and, historically, as far north as Greenland. The most significant threats to their recovery are entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes. In addition to the listing of the two Critical Habitat areas, recovery efforts in Canada have included changes to shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy and the designation of Roseway Basin as an "Area To Be Avoided" in an effort to reduce the potential for ship strikes.

DFO is asking those who see North Atlantic Right Whales to provide the date, time, location (latitude and longitude if possible), and an estimate of the number of whales seen. If photos or video are available, those are also welcome. However, DFO cautions not to approach the group as doing so can be a safety hazard to both the mariner and the whales. Feeding, nursing and other social behaviours can be interrupted when vessels approach. There is also the hazard of potentially hitting a North Atlantic Right Whale which has unpredictable patterns of submerging and surfacing.

North Atlantic Right Whales are identified by the following characteristics:

  • a broad back with no dorsal fin
  • white patterns on their head
  • broad paddle-like flippers
  • a smooth Y-shaped fluke (tail)
  • a V-shaped blow

Information on sightings can be sent by e-mail to:
XMARWhaleSightings@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or by telephone (506) 529-5838.

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