25 years and counting.
(previous newsletters: 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 )
Our annual newsletter describes our activities in the previous year and outlines plans for the current year.
Table of Contents:
Begun in 1991, the Harbour Porpoise Release Program is a successful co-operative program between the GMWSRS and weir operators. From 1991 to 2005, we have released more than 800 porpoises from weirs around Grand Manan Island.
In 2005 we saw very few entrapments coupled with the lowest herring catch in Grand Manan weirs in recent history. The herring remained just offshore and did not come inshore at night around the island. Herring did go into some weirs around Deer and Campobello Islands and we had reports of entrapments. We had no porpoises die in 2005.
The 2005 Harbour Porpoise Release Program began in early July with the arrival of the release team at the field station on Grand Manan. Formal weir checks began on July 11th and were carried out until September 1st. In 2005 the Release Program recorded a total of 24 porpoises in weirs. This was well down from the 122 recorded in 2004. Usually entrapments peak in August and this trend was seen in 2005. Of these 24, 10 swam out unassisted and nine were released. No porpoises died while we were attempting to release them, and the fates of the remaining five are unknown. This gave us an overall live release rate of 100 %. We seined for harbour porpoises a total of six times, between July 19 and September 7. In addition to the 24 porpoises, a single minke whale was documented in a Grand Manan weir. This animal was swept out on September 30th by weir fishermen. There were no other whales reported in weirs during 2005.
The 2005 season was characterized by an island-wide collapse in herring landings and because of this few porpoise entrapments were recorded. Many of the porpoises that were recorded in weirs swam out on their own (42%) and we attribute this to the fact that there was no herring in the weir. In a typical season, each weir would have several hundred tons of fish inside, and we believe that the dense schooling behaviour of the herring may serve to obscure the weir entrance both visually and acoustically. It could also be related to the fact that there was no prey present in the weir and porpoises were motivated by hunger to find their way out more quickly.
A large portion of our success is due to the frequent use of our mammal seines. These nets are used to release porpoises and whales while leaving herring inside the weir. We helped develop the first mammal seine in 1991 and also helped in obtaining the second larger net in 2002. Our data show that porpoise mortality rates are far less when fishermen use the mammal seine (2%) vs. a herring seine (11%) so we strongly encourage its use. We have discovered that individual seines are better suited for use in specific weirs and as such guide the fishermen on which seine to use. We hope to replace the original seine, which is beginning to show signs of serious wear, sometime in the next few years.
In 2005 we also began to look at the energetic value of the herring in the Bay of Fundy from the perspective of the animals that eat it. Although herring (which are energy-dense) serve as their primary prey for many predators (seabirds, porpoises, dolphins, fin, minke and humpback whales, sharks, bluefin tuna) in the highly productive waters of the Bay of Fundy, little is known about how the energetic value of this important resource varies seasonally or annually. Working in cooperation with the local weir fishery, we initiated a herring collection program to begin looking at lipid (fat) content and composition in these fish. Data analyzed to date suggest that the nutritional value of these fish does vary seasonally and with the class of fish. More intensive sampling will take place in the next two summers (2006-2007), and the project will become the focus of Hillary Lane’s M.Sc. project (Hillary was a research assistant in 2005).
Funding in 2005 is summarized in the Funding section. We are still hoping to receive sufficient funding to study methods that might mitigate (reduce or prevent) entrapments. Previous grant proposals to pursue this important study have not been successful.
Right Whale Poop
Heather Koopman specializes
in studying lipids or fats in marine mammals—primarily porpoises and
whales. She, of course, is also one of the long term members of
the Harbour Porpoise Release Team. She became curious about right
whale faeces because they tend to float at the surface which means that
the whales may not be using all of the fats they consume (since fat
floats in water) but are excreting some of them.
Most energetics models assume that the whales use all the fats in their food. The diet of right whales is zooplankton including copepods and krill. Most of the copepods that right whales are targeting in the summer and fall in the Bay of Fundy are ones that are resting before maturing into adults the following summer. Each has a large storage globule of fat for this resting phase since they are not actively feeding. This is presumed to be a rich food source for the right whales.
Right whale faeces or poop
has been regularly collected for the past three years as part of a
project coordinated by Dr. Roz Rolland of the New England Aquarium
(NEAq). Yes it does float at the surface, is usually a reddish
colour and it STINKS. In fact, the NEAq have been using sniffer
dogs on boats to find floating poop. Their objectives include
detecting reproductive and stress hormones, determining levels of
biotoxins from phytoplankton and looking for any diseases or
For Heather’s analyses she
needed both poop (which Laurie and the NEAq provided) and zooplankton
(copepods). Heather and crew were able to charter a local fishing
vessel for a day to get copepods to run the assays. Work is still
preliminary with another season planned in 2006 but Heather is
definitely finding fatty acids in the faeces which could be material
that right whales are unable to digest or their digestion system might
not be as efficient as energetics models have assumed. Heather
has recruited one of our research assistants from 2005, Zach Swaim to
continue this work in 2006 for his masters project. Some funding came
from a Royal Caribbean International donation and donations to our
Whale Conservation Fund.
Involving Communities in Stewardship
In 2005, Laurie Murison
obtained funding from the Habitat Stewardship Program for Endangered
Species to teach local community members about right whales and why
they are so vulnerable. This included digital slide shows and ten
trips for hands-on viewing of right whales (when possible) aboard the
Whales-n-Sails Adventures vessel “Elsie Menota”. In addition,
information was sent to Grand Manan fishermen through the Grand Manan
Fishermen’s Association and Laurie travelled to Plum Point, NL, to
speak to the Northern Peninsula 9th Annual Heritage Conference about
right whales. The trips took place in the fall with the last trip
on October 19 and included sightings of right whales! In fact
only one trip did not see right whales but about 20 humpback and
finback whales were sighted instead. The groups included Grade
9-12 students, a group of Grade 6-8 students who were studying whales
as an elective, parents and teachers from Grand Manan, the St. Andrew’s
scout troop, the first year outdoor recreation class from the Community
College in St. Andrews, the White Head Elementary School students,
teachers and parents, a school group from Castine, ME, who were working
on a project about the right whale Calvin, the calf of Delilah (Delilah
died in the Bay of Fundy in 1992 leaving Calvin as an orphan), and
finally some visitors to the island. Although the weather (fog)
and sea conditions were a challenge, for the most part everyone enjoyed
themselves and learned about right whales and the other large whales in
the Bay. We plan to continue these trips on an annual basis in memory
of the late Ivan Green, with funding coming from our Whale Conservation
Fund and right whale adoptions.
We were also successful in
obtaining funding from the Habitat Stewardship Program for Endangered
Species and Mountain Equipment Co-op in 2005 to have whale watch
companies record their sightings electronically on hand held devices
linked to Global Positioning System units. Roxanne Bower began
this study in 2004 with funding from the Canadian Whale Institute. The
units allowed information to be collected systematically with little
effort by the whale watch companies, saved the time and effort of
transcribing hand-written records, and prevented transcription errors.
This can also provide valuable information about where right whales
(and other whales) are seen in the Bay of Fundy when researchers are
not doing surveys (before and after seasons and when conditions are
unfavourable for the small research vessels). Tentatively, we have
funding for 2006 for the project and will expand to the Gaspé in
Right Whale Skeleton Arrives
The skeleton of a right
whale (#2150) killed in 2003 when hit by a ship has joined a finback
whale skeleton in a fenced compound on Grand Manan, where any remaining
tissue will be naturally composted above ground. This compound is a
joint venture of the New Brunswick Museum/GMWSRS to prepare skeletons
for long term preservation. The skeleton was partially cleaned
and left in Nova Scotia (where it was taken when the whale was found
dead) until it could be arranged to be moved to Grand Manan. In
the interim, the jaws and some ribs were used in a study to determine
their breaking strength to help in the assessment of the cause of death
when right whales are found with broken bones. Ironically this
whale was suspected to have been killed just outside the shipping lanes
into Saint John, the same year the lanes were altered to protect right
whales. The lower jaws of a dead finback whale carried into Saint
John on the bow of a cruise ship in 2004 are also in the compound.
Song of the Whale
In August 2005, the new
IFAW research vessel “Song of the Whale” visited Grand Manan.
They were promoting their non-invasive work studying whales in many
parts of the world and also promoting their support of our Harbour
Porpoise Release Program and Large Whale Disentanglement. The
boat was open to visitors for 4 days as well as invited groups from the
island. Response was good. Saturday night there was an open
house at the Research Station highlighting both the HPRP and Whale
Disentanglement and included a tour of the “Song of the Whale”.
Sunday included a dinner onboard the vessel with the winner of a
children’s art contest (Rachel Jones and her family). On Monday
night some of our researchers were treated to a sunset cruise complete
with harbour porpoises, harbour seals and a finback whale. The
tour continued in St. Andrews and Campobello Island, and then the crew
spent a few days surveying for right whales in the Bay before heading
to Cape Cod.
What has been happening in the Bay of Fundy?
The number of
humpback whales has been increasing, back to more “normal”
numbers. Pilot whales, lone orcas and white beaked dolphins have
also been seen in the Bay in the last two years. A large pod of
sei whales were seen briefly as well in 2005.
Rob Ronconi received funding in 2005 from the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust to begin a pilot project studying the diet of greater and sooty shearwaters. These are trans-equatorial migrant seabirds that spend their lives at sea except when nesting, which they do in the southern hemisphere. Although common seabirds they are seldom seen close to shore.
Rob and his team (usually Andrew, Zach, and Sarah) successfully designed a hand thrown hoop net to capture the shearwaters at sea. Forty-six greater shearwaters and 3 sooty shearwaters were caught from a tidally upwelled area north of Grand Manan (Long Eddy Rip). The purpose of capturing the birds was to collect small blood samples and a few feathers from which the diet of the birds could be determined—on the short term (1-7 days) and longer term (up to three months) by analyzing for fatty acids and stable isotopes—compounds that are found in what the birds eat and are then incorporated into their own tissues. Rob was also able to band a number of these birds. Dr. Tony Diamond, Univ. of New Brunswick, visited the project to help with handling techniques and determining the moulting stage of the birds. Rob would like to expand the project in 2006 and include satellite tracking if funding is available.
Sheep Island Tern Project
In 2005, 58 pairs of common terns nested on Sheep Island, with approximately 100 eggs laid in each year, however, there were poor conditions for terns, including foggy, damp weather during critical periods, lack of appropriately sized prey for the chicks and predation by a northern harrier, herring gulls and possibly night herons. As a result no tern chicks successfully fledged. We had another excellent volunteer tern monitors during this time, William Irwin. Funding came from private and corporate donations. Access to the island was generously provided by Russell Ingalls and his vessel “Island Bound”.
Brian Dalzell has recently moved from Grand Manan and will only have limited input with the project in 2005. We are negotiating with the Bowdoin Scientific Station (Kent Island) who now own Sheep Island, to take over the project. They will not have anyone on the island full time but Kent Island is just next “door” and they will be able to visit the colony regularly. It is hoped that the terns will have a better year.
We have had approximately the same number of visitors (7922, 7893)
during June through the first part of October of 2004 and 2005.
Our sales per person in the gift shop continues to climb which is
excellent and makes it possible to pay some salaries and maintain the
facility without looking for outside assistance. As they say,
location is everything and being across from the ferry parking lot is a
bonus. We have also had excellent staff with Carla Murphy being the
full-time student attendant (partially funded by a grant from Human
Resources Canada), plus our volunteers Sue Stymest, and Ken Ingersoll
filling in when Laurie was busy with other duties. It is always a
challenge as people move or can no longer volunteer to keep the museum
and gift shop open during June, Sept. and Oct. without continually
recruiting new people.
DISPLAYS: A baby humpback whale skull found in Nova Scotia was donated to us in 2005 and has found a spot in our museum. Roxanne Bower has developed new right whale posters to replace the temporary ones we have been using and there will also be new posters about current research in 2006. We also have received donations of items for sale from some of our “Friends” such as hand-knit children’s sweaters and matted photographs.CONGRATULATIONS.
We would like to congratulate Andrew Westgate on his successful defence of his Ph.D. thesis on common dolphins. Westgate A.J. 2005. Population structure and life history of short-beak common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in the North Atlantic. Dr. Andrew is currently doing a Post-doctorate at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, splitting his time between there and Wilmington, NC where Heather Koopman, Arran and Skye live.
Ivan Green. 1932-2006
A founding Director of the GMWSRS has
died. Ivan Green had battled illness for several years, dying at
age 73. After a career as a ship’s engineer in the western Arctic
and British Columbia, Ivan returned to Grand Manan in 1970 to
fish. In 1981 he, the late Dr. David Gaskin and Jim Leslie
started the first dedicated right whale watching operation on Grand
Manan, Ocean Search and also founded the GMWSRS. Ivan ably used his
fishing vessel the “Pat & Robbie” to find right whales and other
whales until 1987 when James Bates and his “Schooner D’Sonoqua” took
over the ship duties.
THANK YOU for IN KIND
(previous newsletters: 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 )