(previous newsletters: 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 )
27 years and counting.
Our annual newsletter describes our activities in the previous year and outlines plans for the current year.
Table of Contents:
Lipids (Fats) in Right Whale Faecal Material
Zach Swaim, a Masters student of Dr. Heather Koopman at the University of North Carolina Wilmington has been studying the fat or lipid content in right whale faeces since 2005. Zach successfully defended his Masters Thesis on this topic at the U. North Carolina, Wilmington, in April 2008.
In the Bay of Fundy the diet of right whales is dominated by the zooplankton Calanus copepods. Copepods contain two types of lipids, triacylglycerols (oils) and wax esters. Most mammals are incapable of breaking down wax esters, however, existing right whale energetics models rely on the assumption that all lipids (even the wax esters) are used. This is the first study to consider the possibility that all of the potential lipid energy present in copepods might not be metabolically available to right whales. This would have profound implications for assumptions about their foraging requirements and metabolism.
Faecal samples were collected opportunistically between August and September by the New England Aquarium (NEAq) field crew and the GMWSRS using a fine mesh dipnet on a long pole. Right whale faeces float at the surface for a short while and can be found by following the odour trails. The NEAq team have used a dog trained to locate the faecal odour trail to increase their success of finding faeces.
Copepods were collected during weekly plankton tows from the middle of July through the end of September in both years in the right whale conservation area, using bongo nets (named for their resemblance to bongo drums) towed vertically from the bottom to the surface. As reported in a previous newsletter, the plankton hauler was purchased from funds provided by the Canadian Whale Institute. Samples were identified and counted throughout the summer and no less that 72% of the samples contained the target species of copepods, representing a mean copepod density of 995 m3.
Copepod and fecal samples were analyzed for lipid class content and composition in the fall of both years. Copepod lipids were dominated by wax ester components with a mean proportion of 94%, showing little variation between sampling sites. Faecal lipids on average consisted of less than 17% wax esters, and interestingly, 29% triacylglycerols and 31% sterol esters.
Right whale faecal lipids were dominated by saturated fatty acids (approximately 75%) and interestingly, some the origin of these fatty acids is unclear, because we know they did not come from the right whale diet nor were they made by the whale. These data suggest that some of the faecal fatty acids may have been produced from another source such as a symbiotic gut microorganism that is capable of producing these fatty acids.
This study was also interested in determining the amount of lipid as well as the different types of lipids right whales metabolize on a daily basis. Using right whale ingestion and defecation models, we estimated that a right whale ingests over 62 kilograms of lipid in one day and eliminates less than 2 kilograms of lipid. This means right whales are metabolizing approximately 60 kilograms of lipid per day. Of these lipids, wax esters are metabolized at an efficiency of over 99%, indicating that right whales are taking advantage of the primary lipid energy component (i.e. wax esters) in their diet.
If right whale metabolic capabilities are similar to traditional mammals, then we should expect higher proportions of wax esters and less, if any, triaclyglycerols in their fecal material. However, if we accept that right whales are utilizing wax esters then we can assume that right whales may have evolved a unique metabolic mechanism, such as specialized enzymatic machinery or a symbiotic bacterial relationship, to utilize some or all of their wax-ester rich diet. Triaclyglycerols, on the other hand, are the primary storage lipid of most mammals and thus it seems wasteful to expel them from the body. It is unclear where the triaclyglycerols in the feces are coming from, although their presence may reflect differential metabolism of triaclyglycerols and wax esters thereby changing the relative proportions we see in the fecal material. This may indicate that right whales are so specialized at metabolizing wax esters, that triaclyglycerols are essentially ignored, or may be endogenous or by-product of bacterial breakdown that is expelled from the body.
During the summer Zach made an evening presentation to the local community at the Grand Manan Museum. We are always honoured to be involved in these evening presentations. Funding in 2007 was from the Fairmont Algonquin Hotel and private donations. Zach’s travel during this project was also supported by UNCW Graduate School, Graduate School Assoc., Biology and Marine Biology Grad Student Assoc., Center for Marine Science Summer Research Stipend, SigmaXi. Dr. Koopman also received funding for this project from UNCW Cahill grant.
In 2007 the GMWSRS completed the 17th year of the Harbour Porpoise Release Program. Harbour porpoise entrapment rates were similar to what we witnessed in both 2005 and 2006, despite the fact that herring catches were up. Typically porpoise and herring catch rates are closely related and it is presently unclear why we saw so few porpoises. There is some evidence from the fishing industry that the youngest age classes of herring were extremely strong this year, suggesting that we might see an increase in herring landings and a corresponding increase in porpoise entrapments, in the near future.
The 2007 Harbour Porpoise Release Program began in the first week of July with the arrival of the release team at the field station on Grand Manan. Formal weir checks began on July 10th and were carried out until September 6th. This year the Release Program recorded a total of 21 porpoises in weirs up slightly from the 16 recorded in 2006. Usually entrapments peak in August and this trend was seen in 2007. Of these 21 entrapped porpoises, two swam out unassisted, nine were released, three died while we were attempting to release them and the fate of one was undocumented. Two of the lost porpoises were from a weir which was newly built this year and which we had no experience seining. Once we learned how the net behaved as it was set (each weir is different) our success rate in this new weir improved. Fishermen released an additional six porpoises without our assistance, including one from the Intruder weir on April 11th!
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.
A rebound in herring landings occurred in 2007 compared to the two previous years, however few porpoise entrapments were recorded. This trend bodes well for the weir fishery as a whole and is beneficial to the conservation of porpoises. The stochastic nature of porpoise entrapment rates weirs makes it difficult to predict what will happen in 2008 (see figure above).
In addition to the 21 porpoises, four minke whales were documented in Grand Manan weirs. Three of these animals were successfully swept out by weir fishermen and the fourth went out through the twine on its own! There was also a single humpback whale reported in a weir near the Wolves just north of Grand Manan. Personnel from the Research Station responded but luckily the animal found its own way out sometime during the night.
VARIATIONS IN HARBOUR PORPOISE ENTRAPMENTS 1991-2007
Together with the help of Grand Manan weir fishermen we successfully released nine porpoises during the 2007 field season. We were able to obtain some measure of information from eight of these individuals. The smallest and largest porpoise this year were from the same weir but on different dates: GM0713 (105 cm male) and GM0706 (150 cm female).
We clipped small, uniquely numbered plastic roto-tags on the dorsal fins of five porpoises (white for females and blue for males—we change colours every year); these tags allow us to identify individuals if they are later re-sighted. Several of the porpoises we roto-tagged in previous years were sighted around Grand Manan over the course of the summer.
We also monitor the health of a wild harbour porpoises and did obtain blood samples from two individuals. Results of these analyses will go into our data base and will provide a snapshot, albeit small, of the health status of the population in 2007. Samples from previous years allowed us to publish a scientific paper on the presence of the disease, Brucellosis, in harbour porpoises. Two of 170 (1.2%) animals had detectable antibodies against Brucella, but no organisms were isolated from genital swabs or tissues from 22 and 8 porpoises, respectively, or Brucella DNA detected in inflamed testes of 20 animals. This is the first evidence of exposure to Brucella in porpoises from the western North Atlantic, and the prevalence is much lower than documented for conspecifics from the eastern North Atlantic.
THANK YOU to our funding partners (Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare,Down to Earth Conservation and Education, Huntsman Marine Science Centre, Connors Brothers), private donations, and the weir operators for their continued support
IN HERRING LIPIDS
The summer of 2007 was very productive for the herring lipid
project. The purpose of this project is to identify seasonal,
spatial, and ontogenetic variation in the fat content and composition
of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) from around the Bay of
Fundy. The main task during the summer was to collect and
initially process herring caught in weirs and purse seine nets around
Grand Manan Island. Over 1700 fish samples were collected in
2007. Five local fishermen consistently donated samples, but
samples were collected periodically from five other weirs around the
island. Samples were also provided by the two offshore purse
seiners that operate from Grand Manan, FV “Fundy Mistress” and FV
“Polly B”. Initial processing involved measuring the fork length
(distance from the tip of the snout to the centre of the fork in the
tail) and mass of each fish, then homogenizing in a blender for more
A new component of the project was the addition of samples from the winter months. These samples were collected by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and stored in St. Andrews until they were brought to the Research Station in July. This sampling effort involved over 10 carriers from locations all around the Bay. Winter samples were also collected directly from a few herring weirs on the northern end of Grand Manan that were active during the winter. These samples were brought in to the Research Station and frozen until processed in the summer. The winter samples added a new and important aspect to the project, allowing seasonal comparison of lipid content and composition.
The success of this project depends on the involvement of the local fishermen. Not only do they provide the samples for the project, but they provide a unique insight that most academics cannot. Therefore, it is very important that the local community remains informed about the progress and success of the project. The study was presented to the Grand Manan community in two ways. First, a seminar was given at the local museum. An overview of the project, brief methodology, and preliminary results were presented. Second, a pamphlet outlining similar information that was in the presentation was distributed to all participating fishermen.
We wish to thank everyone who contributed herring including the weir fishermen, Connors Bros. and the St. Andrews Biological Station. In 2008 we have received funding for this project from the Herring Science Council.
Rob Ronconi, a
Biologist at the GMWSRS, successfully defended his PhD at the
University of Victoria in April 2008 and has started a post-doctoral
fellowship at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Funding in 2007
for this ongoing shearwater project (see our last newsletter) was less
than expected but we were able to achieve a number of successes
including the first ever satellite tagging of sooty shearwaters in the
shearwater project in 2007 was funded through the New Brunswick
Wildlife Trust Fund, and Bird Studies Canada’s James L. Baillie
Memorial Fund. The research station also relies on the generous
donations of many individuals for this project. Funding for the 2008
season is looking promising including grants from the Environmental
Damages Fund, the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund and the National
ADDITIONAL SEABIRD WORK:
December 2007, the GMWSRS received a call from the Grand Manan
A fishermen wanted advice on what to do with a humpback whale that was
tangled in his lobster gear. The Campobello Whale Rescue Team,
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the Center for Coastal Studies
were notified and a release attempt was planned for the next day.
Given the time of year it was miraculous that the weather cooperated
long enough for the Grand Manan DFO officers to pick up the Campobello
team by boat, including a member who had travelled from Provincetown,
MA, transport them
to the entanglement site south of Grand Manan, assist with the efforts
and then get the team back to Campobello. The humpback now
tangled in three lobster trawls (a number of traps attached together in
a long line) was successfully disentangled and swam off. Although
fishermen are often reluctant to become involved, the courage of this
fisherman to seek assistance helped save this whale who was badly
tangled, loosely anchored and at risk of dying.
The fisherman, Ritchie Wilson, was immediately given a certificate by the GMWSRS to recognize his efforts. At the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association Annual Meeting in March 2008, he was presented with an award from the Canadian Whale Institute, also recognizing his efforts.
release of this humpback was certainly a testament to success of the
Bay of Fundy Disentanglement Network and the importance of building a
cooperative atmosphere between disentanglers, fishermen and fishery
Right Whale Stewardship
Our RIGHT WHALE AODPTION PROGRAM—www.AdoptRightWhales.ca is continuing to grow. We have four individuals, three mothers and their calves, and three families who can be adopted and are thinking of expanding this.
Right Whale Notes
In 2007, 22 calves were born with the latest occurring at the end of May off Cape Cod, an abnormally late birth and unusual area. Most right whale calves are born in waters from North Carolina south to Florida between December and early March. This mother then took her calf to Florida in July and then into the Bay of Fundy by the end of August. In 2008, 19 calves have been born which brings the total since 2001 to 176 calves compared with 101 in the previous period between 1991 and 2000. Not all of these calves survive but the recent good calving years has resulted in a growing population, estimated to be just under 400 whales. Two newborns washed ashore this winter, their mothers are not known but may be determined from genetic analysis. Two mothers lost calves this winter but they may not be the mothers of the two dead newborns which means there may have been up to four dead calves and possibly 21 calves. The youngest mother was six years of age and the oldest 26, although seven mothers are of unknown age and could be much older. There were six first time mothers. Three mothers had just a two year calving interval. This occurs only when a mother looses a very young calf, otherwise, there is a minimum of three years between calves, giving the mother at least one year to rest and regain blubber lost during nursing. A recent peculiar occurrence in the calving area is the large numbers of juvenile right whales returning, greatly increasing the number of right whales seen each day during the aerial surveys. This is most likely a result of continued above average numbers of calves being born since 2001 and their returning to the calving areas for the first couple of years.
Right whales continue to be entangled, some for many years. Unfortunately it is not always easy to respond to these whales due to distance from shore, complications of the entanglement and the unwillingness of right whales to be assisted. Each entanglement is different but usually involves the mouth, flippers and tail to some degree. In early 2007 one male right whale that had been entangled for several years (#1424) was found dead in the Gulf of Maine and despite heroic attempts to track the carcass by satellite telemetry, the carcass was not immediately recovered. The well decomposed carcass eventually washed ashore on Cape Cod. In 2008 there have been five new entanglements to various degrees and a couple of the right whales shed the entangling line. Kingfisher (#3346) remains entangled, now over 4 years, with loops of rope still remaining on his right flipper. Flipper wraps can be dangerous for young, growing animals since the rope can cut into the growing flipper, but hopefully this not the case with Kingfisher. Presently, his condition appears to be normal.
Reduced funding to the New England Aquarium from federal U.S. sources almost meant no Bay of Fundy field season for them in 2007, however, through the efforts of several individuals and commitment of funds from both private and non-profit sources, the research team was able to continue their work in the Bay of Fundy which they have undertaken since 1980. A digital camera was permanently loaned to Laurie from the New England Aquarium so she would be able to collect photographs of right whales including the all important photographs of young calves. By the time the calves come to the Bay of Fundy with their mothers, the callosities on their heads are fully formed and once photographed they can then be followed for the rest of their lives since these patterns remain the same, although the head does grow larger.
The New England Aquarium is making a concerted effort in the next few years to provide names for all of the catalogued whales and may rename a few to insure that the names are both useful and tasteful. Currently only 152 out of 519 have been assigned a name. They will be posted to the right whale online catalogue which is a great resource to keep track of individual right whales (www.neaq.org/rwcatalog).
Catspaw (#1632) and her male calf, Resolution (#3532), became a news item in 2008 after a scientific paper was published in Aquatic Mammals described his birth (Observation of a Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Birth in the Coastal Waters of the Southeast United States). Monica Zani, Jessica Taylor and Scott Kraus wrote in the abstract: “….On 1 January 2005, during the New England Aquarium research team's standard aerial survey, a single right whale was observed at the surface 17 nmi east of the northern tip of Talbot Island, Florida. While circling over the whale to obtain photographs for individual identification, observers noticed a red coloration visible in the water around the whale that looked like blood. The water around the whale's belly, side, and flukes was clearly red, but the color was dispersing quickly due to the thrashing behavior of the whale. After 3 min and 37 s of observation, a calf appeared to the side of the adult. The calf had no visible cyamid coverage on the head, body, or flukes. The flukes appeared to be slightly limp and curled under at both tips. The mother lifted the calf to the surface on her back. As the mother rose to the surface, the calf was draped limply over her body. The calf rolled off the mother's back into the water and began to swim next to the mother….. ”
In 2007 from June through the first part of October, visitor numbers increased (6070) over 2006 but still remain well below the ten year average (8374). Our sales per person in the gift shop, dropped from the high of 2006 but above all other years which makes it possible to pay some salaries and maintain the facility without looking for outside assistance, even with the declining number of visitors. We have also had excellent staff Robin Cormier (partially funded by a grant from Human Resources Canada) and Brenda Bass, plus our volunteer Ken Ingersoll filling in when Laurie was busy with other duties. We have received donations of items for sale from some of our “Friends” including jewellery, matted photographs, calendars and whale guides.
On 9 May 2007 we received a report of a stranded porpoise which turned out to be a 14’ female pilot whale. The local fish plant, M.G. Fisheries, kindly donated a boom truck and freezer space to hold the carcass until we did a necropsy in August to determine cause of death and collect any other information. Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust, Dr. Maria Forzan & Scarlett Magda from the Vet. College at UPEI travelled to Grand Manan to participate in the necropsy, along with our staff including Dr. Aleksija Neimanis. There was no apparent cause of death and the animal was other wise healthy. We suspect the animal became confused near Grand Manan and stranded. The skeleton spent the winter in the whale bone compound on Grand Manan but will be transferred into a cage and placed in the ocean for cleaning. It will be rearticulated in the coming years and along with the skeleton of a pilot whale calf that stranded in 2003 will be put on display in the museum .
THANK YOU for IN KIND
Congratulations to both Zach Swaim and Rob Ronconi for successfully defending their graduate degrees, a Masters and a PhD, respectively.
Neimanis, who has been with the GMWSRS for many years and works as
a wildlife pathologist at the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife
Health Centre in Saskatoon, is starting a new job at the Pathology and
Wildlife Disease Division of the National Veterinary Institute in
THE YEAR 2008
(previous newsletters: 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 )