Winter whale watching in Bonne Bay? Scientist says send photos

Whale watching is continuing beyond the usual tourist season in Bonne Bay, on Newfoundland's west coast, and one scientist is tracking the link to climate change.
Blackawton Boat Tour tweeted this photo on Boxing Day, saying the tour company had seen 30 whales, 50 seals and four eagles. (Blackawton Boat Tours)

Whale watching is continuing beyond the usual tourist season in Bonne Bay, on Newfoundland's west coast, and one scientist is tracking a possible link to climate change.

Jack Lawson, a research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has received lots of tweets and emails since early December about humpbacks, minkes and fin whales — including some with calves

"It's a bit of an unusual event in that it's been a long time," he told the Corner Brook Morning Show Tuesday.

"This summer there were reports of tuna, we've had a lot of extra whale sightings in the Strait of Belle Isle, so we know that on the west coast there's been a lot of animals this fall but for it to continue so long in the winter time, it's a really great thing for people in that area."

Lawson said one tour company has told him it recently counted 30 whales.

He said they are likely feeding on herring, which are typically in Bonne Bay in the fall, but not in the winter.

A federal fisheries researcher is hoping to fly over Bonne Bay to document the sightings of whales like this one on Dec. 26. (Blackawton Boat Tour)

Climate change could be a factor that's changing the habits of whales, so Lawson is tracking them closely.

"Maybe the warming waters around the area. We know we've had more turtles and jellyfish and warm water species this year than in previous years so it could be something related to that," he said.

"It could be just a natural increase in stock in the area, we're not sure."

Ice could pose danger

Lawson said Christmas whale watching is more common in areas like Twillingate, where humpbacks stay through the winter, and blue whales are often seen on the southwest coast.

"You'll recall a couple of springs ago we had nine blue whales that were killed off Port aux Basques, so it is a concern for me if the ice begins to form up or move quickly with the wind," said Lawson.

"It could be a risk for these animals if they are caught up in Bonne Bay."

Lawson is trying to arrange a flight to the west coast with a research team to see for himself what's happening.

He said high resolution cameras can confirm what species the whales are, and see congregations of herring under the water.

Jack Lawson, a fisheries scientist with DFO, says your photos help him do research on whales and their habits. (CBC)

In the meantime, he said it's invaluable to have pictures from the general public.

"It's always great for me. It's such a huge province. It's great to have eyes everywhere, and with everybody having smartphones now we get things like humpback whale flukes that we can use to identify individuals and so on."

You can send information to Lawson through email or Twitter.


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