New Brunswick

Stranded whale draws concern after upriver swim in northern New Brunswick

Members of the Ugpi'Ganjig First Nation in northern New Brunswick are concerned about the condition of a minke that was stranded in a river at low tide Thursday.

Minke whale looked distressed, swam in circles for hours, says witness

A minke whale was spotted in Eel River in northern New Brunswick on Thursday. (Travis Harn/Submitted)

Members of the Ugpi'Ganjig First Nation in northern New Brunswick are concerned about the condition of a minke whale  that was stranded in a river at low tide Thursday.

Charlene LaBillois noticed a group of onlookers peering over the bridge into the community also known as Eel River Bar around 3 p.m. She joined the group and saw the whale swimming in shallow water about five metres away.

She said the Eel River, which empties into the Chaleur Bay, was at low tide at the time, though even at high tide it's just "over six feet."

"It was about probably six to seven [metres] in length," LaBillois told Shift New Brunswick.

"From what I could see, there were white marks on it, like over by its side fins. … It was grey in colour."

The whale in Eel River drew a crowd on onlookers as it swam in circles for hours. (Travis Harn/Submitted)

She said it looked distressed.

"It was kind of nerve-wracking because you see this whale just swimming around in a circle, and it looks like it was in distress," she said. "I'm no expert, but it looked like it was in distress. Then I was worried that it probably wasn't going to survive."

The whale swam in circles for hours.

People gathered to see a minke whale swimming in circles in the Eel River for hours. 0:36

Fisheries and Oceans Canada was called to the scene. A spokesperson confirmed the whale was a minke and it "seemed healthy."

"It is believed the minke whale swam back into the Bay of Chaleur during the high tide this morning," Danielle Savoie said  in an email.

A ranger reported no sightings Friday and expects the whale got out of the river and into Chaleur Bay during the night. (Travis Harn/Submitted)

LaBillois said a natural resources ranger told her Friday morning the whale managed to leave the river around 9 o'clock the night before. 

"He walked along the shoreline and he hasn't come across the whale," she said.

But LaBillois said she fears the whale may have become entangled in salmon nets in the bay that are owned by members of the First Nation. There were no sightings as of Friday afternoon.

She had never seen a whale in a river until Thursday.

"When I was a kid, there was a whale that was caught in a salmon net … but that was a long time ago, like probably 30 years ago," she said. "So, I haven't seen anything like this, [it] drew a crowd, it was exciting."

Savoie said it's unclear why the the whale entered the river, but it's possible it followed fish since gaspereau head upriver at this time of year.

A minke whale died along the Shubenacadie River near Clifton, N.S., earlier in June, the second minke to be found dead in Nova Scotia in one week. (Marine Animal Response Society)

Thursday's sighting comes about two weeks after a minke whale died after it was beached on the shore of the Shubenacadie River near Clifton, N.S.

Tonya Wimmer, executive director of the Marine Animal Response Society, said at the time it's not uncommon to see marine mammals chase fish wherever they run.

With files from Shift New Brunswick

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