New Brunswick

'Curious' North Atlantic right whale yearling spotted by whale-watching tour

A curious endangered North Atlantic right whale yearling was spotted by a whale-watching tour Tuesday, something that used to be a common occurrence but now draws spectators to the shore.

People were able to see the young North Atlantic right whale from shore

North Atlantic right whale yearling #2791 was spotted near Campobello Island Tuesday. It was born in late 2018 or early 2019, and seemed healthy. (Submitted by Canadian Whale Institute)

A curious endangered North Atlantic right whale yearling was spotted by a whale-watching tour Tuesday, something that used to be a common occurrence but now draws spectators to the shore.

The young whale, which was a calf in 2019, was spotted off Campobello Island by the Quoddy Link Marine tour boat. They contacted the Canadian Whale Institute, who followed the whale as it swam along the Deer Island shore, to Eastport, Maine, and back into Canadian waters toward the Bay of Fundy.

Moira Brown, scientist with the Institute, was on the boat that followed the whale. She said everyone was delighted to see a healthy young whale.

"It was a big day. It's exciting," she said. "It's always good to see a whale that was a calf last year. Now we know that whale is still alive and thriving."

Moira Brown, senior scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute and Campobello Whale Rescue Team, said the whale seemed healthy and was swimming well. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

She said ideally, the whale would go back into the middle of the Bay of Fundy, away from the coastal activities.

"Hopefully it will soon," she said.

Eight years ago it would have been more common to spot right whales in the Bay of Fundy region. 

But changing water temperature and redistribution of plankton means they've moved toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they are unfortunately less protected from fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes.

Last year, 10 right whales were found dead in Canadian and United States water. There are around 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the world.

The Quoddy Link Marine team saw a young North Atlantic right whale just off Campobello Island on Tuesday. 0:41

"We see a few here each year but not near as many as it used to be," Brown said.

"People know about right whales here, they've been in the Bay of Fundy, you know, for four decades ... When we were over along the shore especially in Eastport there were people standing on there, on the shoreline and on their decks of their houses, checking it out."

Danielle Dion with Quoddy Link Marine was not there to see the whale, but said it's "an incredibly special sighting."

"For our passengers, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said.

Brown said when the whale was spotted, the Institute was able to to notify the harbour pilot who was on an incoming ship, so they could slow down the vessel and be careful not to get too close to the yearling.

A well-travelled 'curious' yearling

The New England Aquarium identified the whale as the 2019 calf of right whale #2791. 

Brown said it was seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence earlier with its mother and it was also seen earlier in 2019 in Florida where it was born.

"This is a young animal and many mammal species young animals are curious," she said. "So this little whale's already had some pretty good travels ... That's his backyard, the east coast of Canada and the U.S."

She said this whale would have been born between December 2018 and February 2019. She said it's pretty typical for young whales to leave their mother's sides when they're around a year old.

She said it looked healthy and looked to be a good size.

"It was certainly swimming well and making its way around."

Since 2017, 30 right whales have died in waters off Canada and the United States, with two-thirds of the deaths in Canadian waters. Since then, mandatory slow-down zones for ships have been made, and static and dynamic shipping closures have also been implemented, depending on whale sightings.

However, Dion says it's hard to read into this whale sighting as a sign of anything but a curious whale.

"There's not much that you can read into it about shifting patterns," she said.

She said this young whale was one of seven born in 2019. This year there were 10 births, but two have died because of suspected ship strikes.

"As sad as the right whale story sounds, it's really important to stay hopeful," she said. "If we can prevent these entanglements and prevent ship strikes from happening, then these whales do have a future."

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