TABLE of CONTENTS:
HARBOUR PORPOISE RESEARCH
SEABIRDS & BIRD REHABILITATION
GRAND MANAN BIRD OBSERVATORY
THE MUSEUM AND GIFT SHOP
GRANTS FOR RESEARCH 1997 & 1998
PLANS FOR 1998
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
CHIEF FIELD BIOLOGIST
PUBLICATIONS FOR 1997-8
1997 FRIENDS OF THE RESEARCH STATION
Right whales again began arriving in early June and by mid June the numbers were 30-50 in the Bay each day. Numbers remained high throughout the summer. Close to 200 have been identified so far in the Bay of Fundy, comparable to 1995. The last right whales were seen in early December.
Eighteen calves were born in Florida/ Georgia waters. It is crucial for the survival of these animals to protect their critical habitat and reduce fishery/boat traffic related deaths. The U.S. has responded by initiating a Large Whale Take Reduction Committee which met in January, composed of government, non-governmental stakeholders, biologists, conservationists and fishers. In Canada, Fundy Traffic Control has been warning ships of the presence of right whales in the Bay of Fundy and a Right Whale Conservation Zone has been designated for the Bay of Fundy and a portion of the Scotian Shelf - off Nova Scotia.
Five right whales were known to have become entangled in fishing gear some still carrying gear, others just the scars. The worst was a two-year old which was seen only once. It had rope through its mouth and around both flippers, was emaciated and covered in cyamids or whale lice.
Unfortunately, the lateness of the season and weather prevented finding it again to attempt a disentanglement. A right whale was killed in the Bay in August when it was hit by a ship. The carcass was towed to long Island, NS where a necropsy was preformed by a team of experts. The whale was identified as a 10 year old female. The retrieval of the carcass was coordinated by the new England Aquarium, East Coast Ecosytems and Laurie Murison, who juggled a marine radio mike in one hand and a cell phone in the other until arrangements were complete. Her location in the middle of the Bay allowed messages to be relayed from boat to plane to shore. The whale was discovered by bluefin tuna fishers and reported.
Nine calves have been spotted this year despite poor weather conditions, with possibly more when all the data comes in. This is an average number of calves and continues to give us hope that the anomaly of low-calf-years in the early 90s has been overcome. No dead calves have been found this winter.
Dr. Moira Brown is now the Chief Scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA.. She continues her research on right whales working in Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel in the late winter/early spring and in the Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf in the summer and fall.
A large jelly fish, unusual for the Bay of Fundy, was collected by Laurie Murison in July. It has been identified as Periphylla periphylla, a species normally found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and more northerly locations. The jelly was donated to the Atlantic Reference Centre in St. Andrews, NB.
In August, a leatherback turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, was spotted by bluefin tuna fishers. This is the second year a leatherback turtle has been seen in the Bay. A leatherback turtle working group has been established at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS., the Nova Scotia Leatherback Turtle Conservation Program A toll free number for any sightings is 1-888-SAW-IN-NS (1-888-729-4667).
A rather comical black and white spotted ocean sunfish, Mola mola, was seen by Laurie Murison. Sunfish are large, slow moving, disc-shaped fish which feed on jellies and other slow moving prey. They are usually dark grey, greyish brown to dusky coloured so the spots were a surprise.
An immature sand tiger shark, Odontaspis taurus, was brought to us from a herring weir. Although this shark has a wide spread distribution there are few reports from the Bay of Fundy. The carcass was donated to the Huntsman Marine Science Centre. Also caught by fishers was an Atlanticsturgeon, Acipenser oxyrhynchus.
Northern fulmars were more common this summer. They are regularly seen in the winter. Wilson's Storm Petrels were in large numbers. Laurie tallied over 66,000 sightings while whale watching. This is 5 times the largest number seen in four years of seabird counts. The largest number seen in one day was over 11,000. Black terns and a south polar skua were other unusual bird sightings for the Bay of Fundy in the summer. The latter may be the first documented sighting in new Brunswick pending agreement by the NB Bird Records Committee.
Sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) were again seen in the Bay last summer. Should we now call them regular visitors?
We examined 10 dead porpoises in 1997, six from gill net entanglements, two from herring weirs and two others. Complete necropsies were performed on nine of these, the tenth was too badly decomposed. Samples were taken for life history, diet, genetics, lipid physiology, and structure of locomotive appendages. Two carcasses were very fresh with a known time of death.. Therefore, samples of blubber, brain, liver and kidney were taken from these animals for NIST (US National Institute of Standards in Technology) as part of a long-term biomonitoring study of animal health. One of these carcasses was also used to monitor the postmortem decrease in core body temperature. The objective of this project is to develop a cooling curve for observers aboard groundfish gillnet vessels. With this curve they can estimate the time of death of a porpoise caught in a gillnet by measuring its body temperature and comparing it to the cooling curve.
Three harbour porpoise skeletons were donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Our managing director continued to collect seabird census data during whale watching cruises. Laurie sent tern and puffin positions to Dr. Tony Diamond, University of New Brunswick and ACWERN. Laurie assisted a student of Dr. Diamond, Falk Huettermann, conduct seabird surveys this winter. As part of his Ph.D. studies, he is interested in many species including alcids and gulls. Most bird watchers do not realize that Grand Manan is a wonderful spot to watch alcids in the winter. We can have up to 10,000 razorbills and common murres in January and February feeding off our shores.
While it is not our intent to be a bird rehabilitation centre, we are usually the recipient of one or more birds in distress each year and 1997 was no exception. In June, an injured common eider was sent to the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources for treatment. Its fate is unknown.
The end of August, we received a dehydrated and malnourished adult northern gannet which we nursed until we could ship the bird to the Maritime Rehabilitation Centre near Sackville, NB. Unfortunately the bird did not survive. A number of gannets died last summer from unknown causes and the deaths are under investigation by the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island.
We also dried out a leach's storm petrel in July, which had stowed away on a fishing boat. While the fisher was cleaning the decks the bird was discovered tucked in a corner. Unfortunately, the deck hose soaked the bird before the fisher could redirect the spray but the bird was quickly brought to us by Ken Ingersoll, and was towel-dried and released.
A very wet, cold, nearly catatonic greater shearwater was plucked from the water by Laurie Murison in August. She was surprised to find a shearwater in this soaked condition without the presence of obvious oiling of the feathers. She spent most of the afternoon drying the bird while also providing interpretation on a whale watch. As the bird warmed it became very feisty. The bird was successfully released that day.
In September, a stunned Swainson's thrush was found on the side of the road by Laurie Murison while conducting an Elderhostel tour. The bird may have hit a wind shield of a vehicle and was in danger of being run over. After a couple of hours of touring the island, the bird had revived enough to be released.
Brian Dalzell, has been the driving force behind the establishment of a bird observatory on Grand Manan. He has banded migrating land birds for the past two years from the Grand Manan Archipelago and plans to continue this year. The GMWSRS fully supports the GMBO and has been acting in an administrative function until the GMBO can be registered as a charitable organisation. The GMBO would become another link in the long term monitoring of bird populations.
The GMBO received $19,600 from the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund for fall migration monitoring in 1997. The banding station was established at the Anchorage Provincial Park and welcomed visitors daily from July 24 until November 7 for a total of 90 days of operation. In total, 2712 birds of 81 species were banded at Anchorage PP in the fall. A total of 178 species of birds were recorded in the area during the migration monitoring coverage period.
The number of nets used ranged from a low of three in late July to a peak of 17 in late September and October. Total net hours amounted to approximately 6267, which works out to a capture rate of 43 birds per 100 net hours. Of the 81 species banded, just over half were represented by less than 10 individuals each, while 14 were represented by a single individual only. The two largest daily catches took place October 30 & 31, and consisted almost entirely of Common Redpolls, but August 18 experienced the largest number and variety of migrants captured (98 and 22 respectively). The banding was accomplished by one paid employee and eight volunteers.
For a more information, please contact:
Brian Dalzell, Grand
Manan Bird Observatory
(now the Fundy Bird Observatory - 1999)
The Station begins its sixteenth year of operation in its facility in North Head, after a year and a half of significant structural renovations and improvements, and some changes in direction and policy, many of which were more or less forced upon us. Aleksija Neimanis had the proud but rather sad privilege in 1997 of being the last of a long line of M.Sc. and PhD. Students graduating in cetacean studies at the University of Guelph. The first began in 1969 and graduated in 1972. As the other marine mammal faculty retired or left Guelph - Dr. Keith Ronald, Dr. Joe Geraci, Dr. David St. Aubin, and finally Dr. David Lavigne - only myself and the graduate students of the porpoise group remained. Our last substantial contract with the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans expired with the first year of the major cutbacks in all federal spending, and concurrently, our NSERC funding was first cut by 28%, then another 17%, at a time when we desperately needed to replace our small fleet of boats and engines. Thanks to the lobbying and proposal-writing activities of Laurie, Andy Read and Andrew Westgate this situation has eased. However, the graduate salary and tuition problems at Guelph, as at all Ontario universities, has gone from bad to worse in several rapid steps. I am now expected to find enough funds from my personal operating research grant each year for each graduate student, at a level to match the teaching assistantships provided by the Department. Two such stipends equal half of my total research funds. Our minimum safe level of operation in our programs is four people, with good boats and equipment.
Rather than drag our the inevitable, I reluctantly closed the last facet of marine mammals research at Guelph in September 1996, after a personal career that started as a government biologist on the Factory ship "Southern Venturer" in the Antarctic in 1961, and a specific career in the academic research of cetaceans at Guelph, in 1968. I suppose it is a sign of the times that this program did not end with a bang, but a whimper in the dark. The University Administration didn't notice, and there wasn't even a comment from the Dean of my own College!
But there are still things I can do, and there is certainly no future in sulking! With the departure of Dr. Andy Read, first to Woods Hole and to Duke University, it became evident that the USA gave a damn about marine mammals on the eastern seaboard, even if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada tended to hope they would just quietly go away. A few of the faithful within that department did keep chipping away at the Minister to deal with the "harbour porpoise problem", but for a while, some of the young scientists working out of GMWSRS had to put up with bad press and unfair criticism, almost as if they were a convenient scapegoat for a difficult problem that no one seemed willing to solve because of levels of self-interest. Hopefully, all this is behind us now; the marvelous work of the weir fishermen in this program show what could have been done from the start, if a little more goodwill had been available at the federal level.
Fortunately, Andy Read, now an Assistant Professor at Duke, was able to find enough sympathetic support and funding in his little corner of the USA to keep the "last generation" of my M.Sc. students working in the lower Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine. In others words, at least the torch was passed from Guelph to Duke before it had a chance to sputter out.
In late 1995 I was invited to take part in a regional committee to develop monitoring protocols for marine mammals in Canadian waters, as part of the mandate of Environment Canada to help Canada meet the terms for measuring and monitoring biodiversity our ecosystems as required under the terms of the Rio Accord of 1992.
Eventually, this work stimulated me to put together Bulletin No.1 of the Whale and Seabird Research Station, entitled "Marine Mammals of the Bay of Fundy: with a reference summary of the conservation and protection status of marine mammals in all Canadian waters". This is in a convenient spiral binding, and will be on sale at the Station this summer.
Encouraged again by the enthusiasm of the EMAN team, I have decided to try to update my book "The Ecology of Whales and Dolphins", which was first published in 1982 and again in 1985, and re-issue it in some form. My personal and academic commitments - (i.e. one third of the faculty in my department at Guelph have gone and not been replaced = more work for the aging remainder) - and the serious problems of academic publishing in this decade simply do not permit a complete re-write. By the time I could wade through all 230,000 words, and deal with all the detailed problems with the actual publishing business, it would be well on the way to being obsolete again! SO: What we hope to have by the late summer is a photoreproduced, strongly spiral bound version of that book, but in 8" x11" format, with a single summary update chapter looking at the advances in "whale and dolphin" science from 1986 to 1997, and a large cross-index bibliography covering as many articles and abstracts as possible, from that period. This part of the job is well advanced. Would you like to know that I already have in excess of 2,000 new reference articles in cetaceans since 1985....Coming your way soon, perhaps available in floppy disk as well. This large bibliography will be cross-indexed by Family, Species, Topic and Region.
You will have noted also that the Station has branched out to carry out research, monitoring and rescue of migrating birds in the last couple of years, regardless of marine or land habitats. The Fundy Islands are long overdue for thorough faunal and ecological surveys, and Revenue Canada has been informed that we are branching out to some other interesting directions where we need more information about this region, which will put us in the position of being able to give solid scientific advice of environmental and conservation measures in this region.
I now have a new, small group of graduate students at Guelph, working on insects, one of them with a major long-term project on moth biodiversity on Deer Island and the Fundy coast. Another is examining the impact of introduced European Skipper butterfly on our native species. The first known specimen to be recorded right on the New Brunswick coast appears to be the one I caught last summer, in my back garden on Deer Island.
Why is a whale biologist Director working on insect a credible concept, might the gentle reader ask? Because this Director has Ph.D. in Entomology, gained with the blood, sweat and tears at Massey University in New Zealand in 1968, he replies! And in case the reader believes that there is no relationship between insects and large mammals, especially aquatic ones, then I must tell you that in spring time, N.W. US grizzly gears lick large numbers of moths roosting on large rocks, and a captive beluga whale recently almost died after eating what was described as "a huge ingestion of beetles".
MANAGING DIRECTOR: Laurie Murison, M.Sc. continued to manage the museum and gift shop and conduct many of our public education outreach programs, representing the Research Station at Elderhostel programs (St. Andrews and Grand Manan), Whale Camps, Whale Research Projects, Huntsman Marine Science Centre programs on Grand Manan, Saint John Boat Show, and Earthfest '97 (Saint John).
Laurie represented the Research Station at a meeting in June, at Freeport, NS, of Nova Scotian whale watch operators in the Bay of Fundy, promoting the Code of Ethics which has been developed by operators and conservationists. Most operators in the Bay of Fundy are signatories. For a copy of the Code, contact Laurie. She also attended the Maritime Atlantic Ecozone Science Workshop at St. Andrews, NB, in November, and the workshop, "Protecting the gulf of Maine from Land-based activities: Issues, Priorities and Actions" held in Saint John, NB in April of this year. Laurie is also a representative for Grand Manan on the New Brunswick Community Action Partnership Program committee, participated in a basic oil spill response training course and a Shoreline Classification and Assessment Training course, and prepared the Emergency Contingency Plan for Grand Manan.
Laurie is one of twelve on the newly formed Right Whale Recovery Team, co-chaired by Fisheries and Oceans and World Wildlife Fund. The team has specific mandates to develop a strategy and appropriate recommendations for promoting the recovery of right whales in the western North Atlantic, to a point at which the population is no longer endangered. The Team will endeavour to:
Laurie is also hired as a whale watch naturalist with Grand Manan SeaLand Adventures. From this venue she continues to photograph right whales for the New England Aquarium. In 1997, close to 200 right whales were identified with right whales showing up in large numbers the beginning of June. See above for a discussion of right whale occurrence in the Bay of Fundy. The trips also allow Laurie to maintain an opportunistic data base of marine mammal, seabird, and basking shark numbers and locations.
SENIOR SCIENTIST: Dr. Andy Read, Ph.D. is an assistant professor at the Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, NC, where he teaches and conducts research on marine mammal ecology. Andy is active in several international advisory groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service Atlantic Offshore Cetaceans Take Reduction Team, the National Marine Fisheries Service Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Team, the Committee of Scientific Advisors, Society of Marine Mammalogy, the New England Fishery Management Council Harbor Porpoise Review Team, the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, spokesperson for the National Marine Fisheries Service Atlantic Scientific Review Group, and on the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.
Andy is a reviewer for a number of scientific journals and is a member of a number of scientific organisations including a charter member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy.
CHIEF FIELD BIOLOGIST: Andrew Westgate, M.Sc. continued to work during the fall, winter and spring at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC. Andrew spent most of the year writing reports for the 1997 season and proposals for funding for the 1998 season. Andrew also worked on developing new tag attachments to better assure success in the 1998 season. He is also working on several projects involving bottlenose dolphins in North Carolina waters and spent June in Norway.
FIELD BIOLOGIST: Heather Koopman, M.Sc.Heather continued her Ph.D. dissertation work at Duke University, Beaufort, NC, studying patterns of lipid deposition and mobilisation in harbour porpoises and other small cetacean species. Heather also coordinated the HARBOUR PORPOISE RELEASE PROGRAM.
Scientists participating in ongoing GMWSRS harbour porpoise research:
PUBLICATIONS FOR 1997-8