Whale, Dolphins and Porpoises or Cetaceans  - Bay of Fundy/Grand Manan Island

The whales or cetaceans which regularly occur in the Bay of Fundy can be divided into two groups, baleen whales or mysticetes and toothed cetaceans or odontocetes. 

Most are seasonal residents from late spring to early winter, however, some occur in the winter. Occasionally other species venture into the Bay. These species normally occur elsewhere, their occurrence would be considered extralimital and rare. Some records are from a single stranding of a dead cetacean. One species of baleen whale was hunted to extinction - the Atlantic grey whale. 

Whales are regarded positively by most, including those in the fishing industry, although some conflicts do present themselves. The Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station works with weir operators to safely released entrapped cetaceans without jeopardizing the fishers catch through the Harbour Porpoise Release Program.

YOU CAN HELP! You can help us save the North Atlantic right whale by adopting an individual whale, a mother/calf pair, or a whole family! The tax deductible fee will go directly towards our costs for right whale research, conservation and education programs. We can also tailor individual adoptions for class projects. Visit

Whale watching is a popular "Grand Manan Adventure".


Mysticetes or Baleen Whales:
Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) - common
Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) - rare
Finback Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) - common
Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) - occasional
Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) - common
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) - occasional-common

Atlantic Grey Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) - Extinct

Odontocetes or Toothed Whales:
Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps) - 2 stranded specimens
Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) - occasional sightings
Northern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) - 1 stranded specimen
Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon sp.) - possible sighting
Beluga (Delphinaptera leucas) - occasional sightings
Orca (killer whale) (Orcinus Orca) - rare sightings, formerly more common
Long-fin Pilot Whale (Globicephala melaena) - occasional sightings
White-beaked Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) - formerly common, now rare
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) - occasional-common
Bottlenose Dolphin(Tursiops truncatus) - 1 stranded specimen
Common Dolphin(Delphinus delphis) - possible stranded specimens
Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) - common 

Selected Species Descriptions:
If you are unfamiliar with anatomical terms for marine mammals refer to Anatomical Terms.  Similarly behaviours are described.

Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
Size: Max. length of 17m (55')
Colour: Black to mottled grey, white scarring, white belly patches in 30% of individuals
Distinguishing Characteristics: Craggy patches on head called "callosities" used to identify individuals. Lift large, all black tail when diving. Blow readily visible- 6m (20') V-shaped. No dorsal fin. Large lower lips, narrow rostrum, broad throat without throat pleats.
Diet: Copepods and krill
Calving: Dec. -Mar. in Georgia/Florida waters
Weaning: 1 year
Occurrence - Bay of Fundy: Common

The right whale has been protected from commercial hunting since 1937, but remains endangered with less than 350 in the western North Atlantic. The right or true whale to hunt, right whales were the first whale to be commercially hunted beginning in the 1100's. By the 1800's the whale was very rare and whalers turned to other species. The whales were prized from the amount of oil rendered from the blubber layer and the baleen which was called "whale bone" and was used in corsets, buggy whips, umbrellas, etc. Up to two thirds of the population visits the Bay of Fundy between June and December. Dive times average 10-20 minutes, longer than the other species of whales because they capture prey by skimming the water with their mouth open. The prey remains on the baleen fringes and the water escapes between the plates.The feeding method extends the dive times. The Bay of Fundy is an important nursery area for right whale mothers and calves. Right whales engage in many types of surface behaviour, including breaching, tail lobbing, spyhopping, flipper waving and slapping. Courtship groups of 2 to 45 whales are sometimes encountered - one of the worlds greatest wildlife spectacles. Right whales are not usually seen from shore, preferring deeper water between Grand Manan and Noa Scotia. A right whale conservation zone exists in the Bay of Fundy.
More about Right Whales
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Finback Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
Size: Max. length of 24m (78')
Colour: Light grey with white belly, occasional blothes of orange/yellow, blaze or chevron extending from eye across back
Distinguishing Characteristics: White lower jaw on right, throat grooves, do not lift tail when diving. Blow readily visible- 10m (33') tall, straight column. Curved dorsal fin closer to tail. Individuals recognized by right side
Diet: Schooling fish and krill (copepods when young)
Calving: Dec.-Apr. in unknown locales
Weaning: 1 year
Occurrence - Bay of Fundy: Common

The finback whale is the second largest baleen whale. Dive times vary from 4-12 minutes with the last or terminal dive after a surface period indicated by a high arch of the back. Finbacks are fast and difficult to follow when travelling. They are not particularly active at the surface, although on occasion they do breach or finish a feeding dive lunging at the surface. Little is known about their social life. Finbacks typically filter by gulping, krill and small schooling fish such as herring. Finbacks and blue whales have the deepest, loudest voices in the ocean, letting them communicate over great distances. Still hunted in the eastern North Atlantic by Norway, this species is considered "vulnerable" in Canadian waters. Finbacks are often seen from shore travelling singly or in pairs. In an area southeast of Grand Manan as many as 50 finbacks have been seen at one time, often in groups of a dozen or more, feeding close together.
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Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
Size: Max. length of 15m (50')
Colour: Slate grey, occasional round scars
Distinguishing Characteristics: Throat grooves, do not lift tail when diving. Blow readily visible- 6m (20') straight column, lense dense than finback. Curved dorsal fin mid-back. 
Diet: Copepods and krill
Calving: Winter in unknown locales
Weaning: 7 months
Occurrence - Bay of Fundy: Occasional

The sei whale is a recent new comer to the Bay of Fundy on a regular basis. They feed by skimming small plankton, despite being able expand their mouth by inflating the throat pleats. They are fast swimmers and dive for about ten minutes. While at the surface, their path can be tracked because they leave "footprints" on the water surface. A whaling station operated at Blanford, NS until 1970, hunting sei whales but the population is not considered threatened. 
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Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
Size: Max. length of 8.5m (28')
Colour: Light grey with white belly, white patches on flippers
Distinguishing Characteristics: White flipper patches, throat grooves, do not lift tail when diving. Blow not readily visible. Individuals not easily recognized
Diet: Schooling fish
Calving: Oct.-Mar.
Weaning: Six months
Occurrence - Bay of Fundy: Common

Minkes typically filter small schooling fish such as herring by gulping large mouthfuls and squeezing out the water. The prey remains in the mouth because of the baleen fringes which acts as barriers to the prey but not the water. Minkes have also been seen eating individual fish. They can be seen close to shore usually singly or in groups less than three. While minkes may be elusive they are known to breach and approach vessels for a closer look. Minkes dive without lifting their tails and usually submerge for five minutes and less but can hold their breath substantially longer. The blow is visible only in the right conditions of light, humidity or temperature. Minkes populations are not considered threatened. Norway still hunts these whales in the North Atlantic. Minkes sometimes swim into herring weirs but with the aid of the Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station personnel, weir fishers can release minkes unharmed using a specially designed net and not lose their fish.
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Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Size: Max. length of 12-18m (40-60')
Colour: Dark with white belly &, flippers
Distinguishing Characteristics: Sensory knobs on head. Throat grooves, lift tail when diving. Ballon shaped blow readily visible. Variably curved dorsal fin mid-back on a hump. "Knuckles" or bumps along tail stock of thin whales. Flippers may reach length of 4.5m (15'). Individuals recognized by underside of flukes and body scars/markings
Diet: Schooling fish and krill
Calving: Jan.-Mar. in Carbbean
Weaning: 1 year
Occurrence - Bay of Fundy: Occasional-Common

Humpbacks lift their tail when the dive, dive durations range from four to ten minutes and sometimes longer. Humpbacks typically feed by gulping. They employ a number of methods to corral fish including bubble nets, bubble spirals and their white flippers. Humpbacks are listed as "threatened" in Canadian waters. Humpbacks are very active at the surface, sometimes called the "clowns of the sea", they are known to breach, tail lob, spyhop, flipper wave and slap. Males humpbacks "sing" in the Caribbean mating grounds. Humpbacks are sometimes seen from shore.
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Atlantic White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
Size:Max. length of 3m (10')
Colour: Black with white and yellow flank patches and white belly
Distinguishing Characteristics: Dive with out lifting tail. Blow not readily visible. Curved dorsal fin. Conical-shaped teeth. Pointed snout.
Diet: Fish, squid, some crustaceans.
Calving: June-July
Weaning: 1.5 years
Occurrence - Bay of Fundy: Occasional-Common

Atlantic white-sided dolphinactively seek moving vessels and are acrobatic at the surface. They often travel in groups ranging from less than ten to 500 or more. The typically dive for less than five minutes and usually do not have a visible blow unless the right conditions of light, humidity or temperature are present. The dolphins probably move offshore in the winter, arriving in the Bay of Fundy in the summer. White-sided dolphins are not usually seen from shore. Dolphin populations are not considered threatened. 
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Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
Size: Max. length of 1.7m (5'6")
Colour: Grey above with white belly
Distinguishing Characteristics: Dive with out lifting tail. Blow not readily visible. Triangular dorsal fin. Spoon-shaped teeth. Blunt snout.
Diet: Schooling fish ~ 15cm (6" in length. Krill when young.
Calving: May-June
Weaning: 6 months
Occurrence - Bay of Fundy: Common

Tending to be elusive, they are not attracted to motorized vessel or are particularly active at the surface. Porpoises dive for no more than five minutes with most dives between two-three minutes. In that time they can dive as deep as the Bay of Fundy 227m (745'). Porpoises are often in small groups and recent tracking studies indicate that they remain within the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine throughout the year, many migrating toward Cape Cod in the winter. Porpoises are sometimes caught in bottom set gill nets and die. An international group of fishers, conservationists, government officials and researchers, has been trying to reduce this mortality. Porpoises also swim into herring weirs but with the aid of the Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station personnel, weir fishers can release porpoises unharmed without losing their fish. Porpoises can easily be seen from shore. Porpoises are considered "threatened" in Canada.
More about porpoises.
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"A field guide to whales, porpoises and seals from Cape Cod to Newfoundland". 4th ed. Steve Katona, Valerie Rough & David Richardson. 1993. Smithsonian Press. 316pp

"Marine Mammals of the Bay of Fundy with a reference summary of the conservation & protection status of marine mammals in all Canadian waters". David Gaskin. 1997. Bulletin No. 1, Whale & Seabird Research Station. 121pp.

"A History of the Mammals of Grand Manan" in "The Other Creatures", L.K. Ingersoll & S.W. Gorham. 1978. The Grand Manan Historian, No. XX, pp. 31-54.

Seals | Whales| Other Mammals
Page revised September 30th 2006
24 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB, Canada E5G 1A1

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