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Following the food : Why we are seeing so many whales near Nova Scotia

['Joan Comeau saw these humpback whales just of Point Prim Nov. 21.']
['Joan Comeau saw these humpback whales just of Point Prim Nov. 21.']

DIGBY, N.S. – A whale researcher in Grand Manan says whales are normally in the Bay of Fundy at this time of year, but we just don’t normally see so many in Nova Scotia.

Laurie Murison, the executive director of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, told the Courier by email on Nov. 23 that she wasn’t surprised to hear of all the recent sightings in Digby.

“We regularly have whales in the bay until mid-late November,” she said. “What is unusual is that they are close to shore so people start talking about them.”

[Whales putting on late season show: Sightings in Digby and at Canso Causeway]

Murison has been flying aerial surveys with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans since 2007 - in late October, early November and sometimes into early December.

This year on Nov. 8 she counted 22 humpback whales south of Grand Manan.

Murison says humpbacks feed on herring and krill and will go where the food is.

“If they are still getting good amounts of feed, why go south until you really need to?” she said. “Not all females will be breeding each year so they can linger, juveniles may not be breeding at all so they can linger. They can still get to the Caribbean by January if they remain until December and go with a better fat reserve.”

Murison noticed the herring purse seiners weren’t fishing near Grand Manan this year.

“That is a first in many years and happened because the herring was absent,” she said. “Perhaps those herring headed across the bay this fall or somewhere else.”

Murison says it also important to remember that the humpback population is increasing since they were protected from whaling.

“We should be seeing more whales and not less, as long as there is nothing wrong with the bay, as happened with right whales for a few years. The whales kept checking but they didn't find food so they went elsewhere.”

Right whales returned to the Bay of Fundy this year which Murison says is a good indication of healthy populations of zooplankton.

Murison remembers “probably 20 years ago”, when a dozen or more humpback whales hung around off North Head on Grand Manan for almost the entire month of December. 

“It was a treat to see the whales everyday, from my kitchen window at times. They were never big news but we weren't as connected as we are today,” she said.

Murison says whales are big news today and social media has increased our awareness of marine life sightings.

jriley@digbycourier.ca

Laurie Murison, the executive director of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, told the Courier by email on Nov. 23 that she wasn’t surprised to hear of all the recent sightings in Digby.

“We regularly have whales in the bay until mid-late November,” she said. “What is unusual is that they are close to shore so people start talking about them.”

[Whales putting on late season show: Sightings in Digby and at Canso Causeway]

Murison has been flying aerial surveys with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans since 2007 - in late October, early November and sometimes into early December.

This year on Nov. 8 she counted 22 humpback whales south of Grand Manan.

Murison says humpbacks feed on herring and krill and will go where the food is.

“If they are still getting good amounts of feed, why go south until you really need to?” she said. “Not all females will be breeding each year so they can linger, juveniles may not be breeding at all so they can linger. They can still get to the Caribbean by January if they remain until December and go with a better fat reserve.”

Murison noticed the herring purse seiners weren’t fishing near Grand Manan this year.

“That is a first in many years and happened because the herring was absent,” she said. “Perhaps those herring headed across the bay this fall or somewhere else.”

Murison says it also important to remember that the humpback population is increasing since they were protected from whaling.

“We should be seeing more whales and not less, as long as there is nothing wrong with the bay, as happened with right whales for a few years. The whales kept checking but they didn't find food so they went elsewhere.”

Right whales returned to the Bay of Fundy this year which Murison says is a good indication of healthy populations of zooplankton.

Murison remembers “probably 20 years ago”, when a dozen or more humpback whales hung around off North Head on Grand Manan for almost the entire month of December. 

“It was a treat to see the whales everyday, from my kitchen window at times. They were never big news but we weren't as connected as we are today,” she said.

Murison says whales are big news today and social media has increased our awareness of marine life sightings.

jriley@digbycourier.ca

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