(previous newsletters: 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 )
28 years and counting in 2009.
Our annual newsletter describes our activities in the previous year and outlines plans for the current year.
Table of Contents:
Atlantic herring nutritional value project.
Hillary Lane successfully defended her thesis entitled “Variation in the nutritional value of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) from the Bay of Fundy, Canada” in April 2009.
Herring are often called a “keystone species” and are an important link between the zooplankton and whales, porpoises, seals, seabirds, and large fish in the Bay of Fundy. Prior to this project, little was known about the nutritional value of herring in the Bay. Understanding how the nutritional value of herring varies is crucial to our understanding the biological dynamics in the Bay.
Fish were collected from various weirs and purse seine nets around Grand Manan during summers from 2005-2008 and the total amount of fat in each fish was determined using standard laboratory procedures in Dr. Koopman’s lab in North Carolina. Some fish were also collected in the winter of 2006-2007.
The amount of fat (a measure of nutritional value) in herring is variable over many scales.
By size: Fish of different sizes, from different years, seasons or locations have different amounts of fat. Large fish had significantly more fat than small fish across all years.However, spatially, there was no difference in the amount of fat in fish collected from weirs compared to fish collected from purse seine nets, nor between different weirs.
Annually: Fish from 2005 had significantly less fat than fish from 2006-2008.
Seasonally: Fish from summer had significantly more fat than fish from winter.
The variation found in herring fat content is likely due to varying nutritional value or abundance of their zooplankton prey. The variation found in the amount of fat in herring has implications for predators. Since different predators eat different sizes of herring, those predators are receiving prey that are worth different amounts nutritionally and can be particularly significant. Puffins, for instance, feed their chicks small herring. Less lipids in herring can increase foraging effort, increase the time to fledging, increase the amount of prey the adults must eat, and in particularly poor years, result in the death of chicks when adults can not provide sufficient prey for their chicks.
Funding for this project in 2008 came from the Herring Science Council. We would also like to thank Connors Brothers in Blacks Harbour, and the weir operators and purse seiners who provided herring samples.
HABITAT, DIET AND FEMALE BODY SIZE ON EGG QUALITY IN THE AMERICAN
LOBSTER (Homarus americanus).
What does this mean? Our first year
of data suggests that eggs from larger females >140 mm (carapace
length (CL)) might contain less total lipid and fewer omega-3 fatty
acids than females with CL <140mm. Lipid content and omega-3 fatty
acids are known to be important for proper and rapid development of
eggs into healthy larvae and if the differences we observe are
biologically important, it could mean that eggs produced by larger
lobsters might not grow as quickly, or have the same probability of
post-hatching survival as those from smaller lobsters. Our egg
measurement data hint at variable rates of embryonic development among
females, with larger females potentially carrying eggs that either
develop much more rapidly or much more slowly than those of their
smaller counterparts. However, we have only collected samples from one
year, and only from 90 lobsters, so we are unable to make any firm
conclusions at this point. It is important to also remember that this
research took place in a calendar year (2008) but the reproductive
cycles of lobsters do not follow this schedule. The eggs we sampled in
2008 were not all from the same cohort (i.e. the eggs sampled in June
were spawned in summer 2007, while those sampled in September and
December were spawned in 2008) but rather represented two different
cohorts. The additional year of sampling should help to clarify our
results and allow us to be more confident in our interpretation of the
The 2008 Harbour Porpoise Release Program began in the first week in July with the arrival of the release team at the field station on Grand Manan. Formal weir checks began on July 12th and were carried out until September 1st. Although some years we check weirs well into September and do have entrapments, we decided that given the high cost of fuel and the few porpoise entrapments, it would be alright. Had any entrapments have occurred, the weir operators would have alerted us.
This year the Release Program recorded a total of 14 porpoises in weirs, which was down slightly from the 21 recorded in 2007. Most entrapments occurred in August, which is typically when we see the greatest number of porpoises in weirs. Of these 14 entrapped porpoises, six swam out unassisted, and eight were actively released. We did not experience any mortalities during 2008. No other whales were reported in Grand Manan weirs during 2008. We did record at least 3 basking sharks in weirs, all of which were released alive.
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. All porpoise seines were carried out using the mammal seines this year, which likely contributed to our high success rate.
Entrapments over the season
A sharp decline in overall herring landings was observed in 2008. Porpoises like to stay close to their prey, and remained with the herring offshore. The few weir entrapments we recorded were not associated with herring catches and probably represent random porpoises swimming into weirs. The irregular nature of porpoise entrapment rates weirs makes it difficult to predict what will happen in 2009 (see Fig. 1).
Porpoises handled this year
Together with the help of Grand Manan weir fishermen we successfully released eight porpoises during the 2008 field season. We were able to obtain some measure of information from all eight of these individuals. Here is a summary of the harbour porpoise releases from 2008 (each weir is named individually):
Aug 7, one female and one male released from Intruder WeirThe largest porpoise (GM0805) caught during 2008 was a male who was 141 cm in length and weighed 45 kg, The smallest porpoise (GM0802) was a tiny calf who was not responsive in the boat and was thus quickly returned to the water before measurements could be taken. In addition we had a recapture of a female porpoise (GM0806 Aug 16, 140 cm and 40 kg in 2008) that was first caught in 2007 (GM0706 Aug 28, then 127 cm and 41 kg).
Aug 8, one male released from Jubilee Weir
Aug 15, one female released from Mystery Weir
Aug 16, one male and one female released from Intruder Weir, one male released from Iron Lady Weir and one male released from Pipe Dream Weir.
We clipped small, uniquely numbered plastic roto-tags on the dorsal fins of all five porpoises (Green for females and Orange 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.
It is difficult to predict what 2009 has in store, but as usual the GMWSRS will be standing by ready to assist local weir fishermen with porpoise and whale entrapments. The GMWSRS as a small non-profit organization struggling along with the rest of Canada during these hard financial times, is very grateful for the continued support and look forward to continued support in 2009.
THANK YOU to our funding partners, private donations, and the weir operators for their continued support: Down to Earth Conservation and Education, Connors Brothers, Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society, McLean Foundation, Huntsman Marine Science Centre.
THE BAY OF FUNDY AS A
STOP-OVER FOR MIGRATORY SEABIRDS: CRITICAL HABITATS AND HEALTH OF
SHEARWATERS. Rob Ronconi
As a follow-up to
these findings, in 2008 we initiated a new study investigating other
techniques to monitor health changes in seabirds during this critical
staging period. We tested for seasonal changes in health from
hematology (blood cell counts, n = 39), triacylglycerols (TAG) levels
(lipids in the blood that represent fat reserves, n = 52), and
corticsterone (stress hormones, n = 47). Hematology parameters showed
changes within seasons and among years suggesting that this may be a
valuable tool for health monitoring and also corresponds with migration
timing. TAG levels were highly variable and showed no seasonal trends,
but were positively correlated with bird mass, confirming that bird
mass is an overall good indicator of fattening. Corticosterone analysis
encountered problems in the lab and results are not available for
reporting at this time.
We have now
completed four years of sampling shearwater diets in the Bay of Fundy
and have expanded the number of prey species in the analysis, adding 50
prey samples in 2008 including krill, squid and several fish species.
discoveries highlight the individual variability in animal movements
that exist within a population, and thus the need to include a large
sample size, spread among years.
capture, banding, tagging and sampling (feathers and blood) were
obtained from the Canadian Wildlife Service (#SC2599) and the Bird
Banding Office (sub permit under Dr. Tony Diamond, UNB, permit #10480
S). University Animal Care Certificate for research protocols was
issued to Dr. Heather Koopman, University of North Carolina Wilmington
(certificate #2007-007). U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife import permit
under the Migratory Bird Act was obtained to send blood samples to
North Carolina for laboratory analysis (#MB112041-0). We also obtained
an Industry Canada license for the use of transmitters designed for
Rob Ronconi, a
Research 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. The shearwater project
in 2008 was funded through the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund, and
Envronment Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund. The research station
also relies on the generous donations of many individuals for this
Robin was able to
determine that the tagged phalaropes were travelling back and forth
across the Bay from off Grand Manan to off Brier Island in Nova Scotia
which may explain why birds are not seen for extended periods of time
in one location as used to happen when the birds stopped between
Campobello and Deer Islands in large numbers. She plans to
continue her work in 2009 as part of her PhD. Thesis.
Right Whale Stewardship
While presenting a detailed description of the entanglement issue and how whales are disentangled, we also tried to gain the confidence of fishermen, in particular, who are critical to both the reporting of entangled whales and to finding workable solutions. It is important to keep fishermen involved and a number of actions have resulted including the Mitigation Strategy for Southwestern New Brunswick which outlines voluntary actions to avoid entangling whales, a Whale Hotline was established where whale sightings can be reported and those sightings accessed as well, fall aerial surveys to determine where right whales are located and report those sightings to the Whale Hotline and right whale sighting networks. We worked with the local air charter and Fisheries and Oceans on these flights beginning in late October and continuing into December. It is interesting to know that right whales in December range from the Bay of Fundy to Florida. We also recognized in our presentations that successful disentanglements recognize those involved and a follow-up is provided when additional information is acquired such as further sightings of the whale.
We were also involved in consultations with GREMM (The Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals) and a number of Maritime groups (Maritime Animal Rescue Society, New Brunswick Museum, University of Prince Edward Island) to continue the development of a more formal Network to respond to marine animal emergencies in the Maritimes and the discussion of a call-in centre for reporting marine animal emergencies. Those discussions are ongoing, including a recent meeting to plan for the upcoming summer. We are hopeful an effective network will result.
We also participated this winter (2009) in a workshop chaired by World Wildlife Fund on possible solutions to whale entanglements attended by fishing association representatives, right whale researchers, disentanglers and government representatives. World Wildlife Fund has working closely with fishermen in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on this topic for a few years.
In 2009 we have been awarded another HSP grant to develop an educational package to be used by schools to let students learn about endangered right whales and then become certified as Right Whale Stewards.
Right Whale Notes
The Bay of Fundy was a different place in the summer of 2008 with a strong fresh water component from heavy floods and rains. Herring remained at depth for much of July and August. This changed the distribution of herring loving whales such as fin and humpback whales, harbour porpoises, and also seabirds. However, right whales were unaffected and began appearing in July, although the first reported sighting was in late May by a lobster fisherman working close to Brier Island, NS. The last sighting was of two male right whales on Jan. 28, 2009 off Point LePreau, NB, the latest confirmed record. Another unusual sighting was a right whale, named Pico, RW #3270, off the Azores in early January, 2009. Pico is one of the islands in the Azores and the bonnet callosity of this particular right whale closely resembled the shape of the island. This female had been photographed in the Bay of Fundy in late September, 2008. The New England Aquarium is in the process of naming all of the right whales in the right whale catalogue, not that the whales need names but to help in the field with identification (names often relate to noteworthy callosity patterns, scars, etc.) and because most people relate better to a name rather than a number (all right whales have a catalogue number).
Working closely with the New England Aquarium, we had the privilege of adding three additional calves to the catalogue who were not photographed in the calving areas. This is the first time this has happened since 1994 when the intensity of aerial flights increased significantly in the calving areas ranging from North Carolina to Florida. Usually any calves that were missed in the calving areas are found off Cape Cod and the Great South Channel. The total number of calves was 24 with one other suspected but never fully documented. Fifteen mothers and calves were documented in the Bay with the challenge being matching the calf with the mother. By the time right whale mother and calf pairs come to the Bay, the calf has some independence, waiting for an hour or more for the mother to return from feeding. It isn’t always possible to wait for the mother to return and it helps to have more than one vessel photographing. We contribute our photographs and work cooperatively with the New England Aquarium to greatly help this matching process.
No entangled right whales were reported in the Bay of Fundy in 2008, although a humpback whale was successfully disentangled in late November off Brier Island by lobster fishermen who had found the humpback whale entangled and had been trained as first responders. However, this winter (2009) saw many entangled right whales showing up in the calving area (five in total, all partially or fully disentangled), including Bridle, RW #3311, who was successfully sedated after several attempts and entangling lines removed. This six year old whale had a complicated entanglement and resisted all attempts to disentangle. The sedation seemed to calm the whale, allowing close approaches but did not appear to slow the swimming speed or change the dive pattern. While these extreme measures show promise, not providing situations where whales may get entangled is the ultimate solution.
A male right whale, Ruffian #3530 was photographed in January 2008 with extensive wounds across his back. The cause was unknown but possibly caused by something scraping across the whale. The prognosis was not good but the whale was last seen over a year later (March 2009) with all wounds healed. This whale shows the ability of right whales to recover from unbelievable injuries.
It must be noted that 2009 has been a record since 1980 for the number of right whales born. A total of 39 calves were recorded with their mothers but that number may increase as the mothers bring their calves north. Not all right whale mothers are photographed in the calving areas off the south-eastern United States. Possibly 28 mothers and calves may bring their calves to the Bay of Fundy this summer which could prove to be a busy one. It is important to photograph the calves when they are six months or older. The callosities patterns are formed by this age and can be used to track the whales for the rest of its life.
Calvin was photographed off Wilmington, NC on 30 Dec. 2008, with her second calf, exactly four years and a few kilometres from where she was photographed with her first calf, Hobbes.
In June 2009, the Canadian Right Whale Recovery Strategy has finally been accepted after several years in the making. This replaces the Right Whale Recovery Plan from 2000. The new strategy was required as part of the Species at Risk Act. The strategy can be viewed at http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca under Recovery Strategies.
Each year to ensure its continuation and recognize its importance, we contribute to the University of Guelph’s Gaskin Medal in Freshwater and Marine Biology. It was established in 1999 by the University to honour our late founder, Dr. David Gaskin, and is awarded annually to the graduating student with the highest accumulative average. This year the University temporarily rescinded a number of their awards because of the current financial crisis. Fortunately the Department of Integrated Biology recognized the importance of this medal and went ahead with the award. Here is a list of the winners since its inception:
1999: Cheryl Tinson 2005: Stephanie Johnston
2000: David Hardie 2006: Roger Thiessen
2001: Noreen Kelly 2007: Jessica Van Zwol
2002: James Histed 2008: Alexander Dalton
2003: Daniel Lingwood 2009: Sarah Larocque
2004: Lindsay Jennings
In 2008 from June through the first part of October, visitor numbers decreased (5763) over 2007 and remain well below the thirteen year average (7998). Our sales per person in the gift shop, continued to drop from the high of 2006 but it is still possible to pay some salaries and maintain the facility without looking for outside assistance, even with the declining number of visitors. The continued low number of visitors makes it more challenging when purchasing stock to prevent overstocking but still have a good selection.
Our staff were two Grand Manan students, Sheldon Fudge and Aleta Leighton (partially funded by grants from Human Resources Canada and the province of New Brunswick S.E.E.D. program) 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.
We are still cleaning the pilot whale skeleton from May 2007 and hope to have it rearticulated at some point, along with the pilot whale calf from 2003. Removing the oil from the bones takes time.
SWALLOWTAIL KEEPERS SOCIETY
In early 2008 a group of concerned people successfully lobbied the Village of Grand Manan to stop proceedings on the sale of the Swallowtail Keepers portion of the Swallowtail peninsula. The Village has owned this property since 1994. This does not include the lighthouse but does include the keepers house, boat house and the two buildings above the stairs, one of which is a pump house to deliver water down the hill and the other is the old boat house from the discontinued lighthouse on Ross Island, moved to that location by the former light keeper, Grimmer Ingersoll and his brother in the mid-1960s. The Village had been struggling with getting appropriate tenants and decided that it would be easier to sell the property before it fell into complete disrepair, rather than trying to keep it up themselves without a long term plan.
A steering committee was formed and took on the task of getting a Memorandum of Understanding and long-term lease from the Village and begin plans to renovate and restore the property. Charitable status was also pursued with the help of lawyer Frank Longstaff and was successfully achieved.
After an initial cleanup of the buildings, the first official act was to reinstall a flag pole and have an official flag raising on July 1, with Corporal Andy Scott of the RCMP presiding in thick fog. The immediate goal it to get the buildings to a state that they are weather proof and not deteriorating any further and to preserve the look and feel of an operational light station, despite automation of the light house. At present the light house remains in the hands of the federal government. Eventually it is hoped to have a number of historic displays and interpretation panels on the property, using the former Ross Island boat house as the initial greeting centre for visitors to the light station. In this planning, the roof has been replaced on this building and a beautiful deck built which encircles three sides of the building and gives a lovely view of the light house and surrounding Pettes Cove and Sawpit.
How does this concern the GMWSRS? Our executive director, Laurie Murison, is the chair person of the steering committee and is dedicated to bringing as much marine interpretation as possible into the display panels that will eventually be completed. Swallowtail is a great place to watch marine mammals and seabirds. As well, the weirs in Pettes Cove entrap porpoises and the Harbour Porpoise Release Program can be explained and promoted.
A blog has been started at www.SwallowtailKeepers.blogspot.com if you are interested in keeping up with the latest developments.
IN HONOUR of:
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 2009
(previous newsletters: 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 )