WHALES: Looking Back – Right Whales Lay Claim to Historic Grounds

Written 13 years ago, the battle was to prove that right whales were common at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. That was done. Now, another change and another challenge has emerged as the rights have moved north into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the saga continues.

Right Whale at Head Harbour Lighthouse. Danielle Dion photo.


Memories From 2006.

Ever since LNG Carpetbaggers Smith (Quoddy Bay LNG) and Girdis (Downeast LNG) decided to favour Passamaquoddy Bay with 2 LNG terminals and the promise of a huge LNG tanker virtually every day, there has been an ongoing debate about where endangered Northern Right Whales actually hang out here.

Some of us old professionals have pointed out that right whales, fins, and minkes commonly foraged down into Head Harbour Passage to Friars Roads and even, on occasion, up into lower Passamaquoddy Bay itself. They commonly occurred just offshore of Head Harbour towards Grand Manan Banks and we encountered Rights in this area frequently while we were doing our biological surveys and collections in the 60s, 70s and early 80s.

Closely associated with these feeding concentrations were thousands of seabirds, particularly phalaropes, sometimes present in the millions. The place was alive and fishermen caught tons of herring in Passamaquoddy Bay and up the St. Croix Estuary to Oak Bay and The Ledge. This was only a few short decades ago.

And then it changed. Something happened – near-shore pollution, nutrient loading – whatever it was the plankton populations dropped, the phalaropes disappeared, the herring stayed offshore, and the right whales came in only occasionally.

During this time the new biologists came and established their territory. They did good things too. Moved the Fundy Traffic Lanes towards Nova Scotia to avoid the current concentrations of right whales and established a right whale sanctuary in the area where they found concentrations.

Unfortunately, this played into the hands of the LNG developers who ensured everyone that their route would miss “ecologically sensitive areas” such as the right whale sanctuary. And people bought in. I was told by a Canadian Coast Guard official that whales didn’t occur in Head Harbour Passage. Years of experience and a desk-jockey knows all the answers!!

Efforts to inform officials about the historic distribution right whales met with contrary public statements from the new biologists. Well the right whales have just staked out their historical birthright …. right on top of the 2 proposed LNG tanker routes into Passamaquoddy Bay. For a month now as many as 30, possibly up to 50, right whales have been feeding in Grand Manan Channel right up to Head Harbour Lighthouse, in the open water from there to the mainland New Brunswick shore and in close to land all the way from Blacks Harbour to Maces Bay.

The rights have “spoken”. This is their home territory and we are bound by law, morals, and good sense to protect them from any industrial port growth in Passamaquoddy Bay, particularly LNG.

The accompanying chart shows Fundy Traffic, 2 proposed LNG tanker routes (red), the Grand Manan Ferry route, (blue), the Right Whale Sanctuary off Grand Manan and the fall 2006 area of occurrence to the west.

Art MacKay


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