Nova Scotia Whale Tales

A Whale Slap

Eight passengers on a whale watching cruise had a perhaps too eventful whale sighting in September 2018. The Zodiac inflatable vessel, owned by Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises, was carrying whale watchers off the Nova Scotia coast, when a 15-metre humpback whale approached the boat and started to dive. Raising its tail above the water, it then struck the boat with a flip of its tail.

David Mulder, one of the passengers, captured the dramatic incident on video. The recording highlights the massive size of the whale’s tail fin seen against the small inflatable boat. It is reported that the boat rocked violently for a few minutes, but there were no injuries to passengers or the whale.

Controversy over how close whale whaling boats should approach whales resulted in new regulations stating that they should not come nearer than 100 metres. Tour operators have said they welcome the regulations, which are designed to protect whales from harassment and injury. However, this does not prevent whales from approaching boats.

Guy Melville, the captain of the Zodiac, and employed by the cruise company, said, “It was more of a tap than a hit.”   Regarding the humpback’s possible motives for the tail smash, he added, “Being incredibly intelligent animals, I think it was partly a curiosity move and partly a little bit of a dominance move.”

Triple Breach near Halifax

Whale watchers feel excited when they see a whale breach: this is one of the whale surface behaviours they hope to witness. Well, imagine how one group of passengers felt at the amazing sight of three humpback whales breaching the water! Video footage, taken by tour passenger Edmond Giroux, in August 2018, shows the three whales approaching the boat. After resting in the water, the whales swam away from the boat. Then, one after the other, each whale launched itself into the air, to the left, middle and right respectively in what seemed like a synchronised set of movements.

Sad News and Better News

Brier Island is sometimes called the whale watching capital for good reason, as many tour passengers would testify. One whale became quite famous locally, a humpback known as Peajack. However, in September 2018, the whale was seen dead, apparently entangled in some rope, according to the Marine Animal Response Society.

Shelley Lonergan, chief naturalist with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises, stated that she felt particularly sad at this news, as she had been observing Peajack off the island since 1995, and the whale had given birth to two calves during this time.

There was, happily, a better outcome when a whale calf became entangled in rope off Brier Island in July 2018. Passengers on another Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruise were concerned when they saw two whales, one of them entangled by rope.  After passengers contacted the Marine Animal Response Society, the Campobello Whale Rescue Team managed to free the calf from the rope, which was tangled around its head, and reunite it with its mother. Shelley Lonergan, specialist with the tour operator, said, “The passengers were very concerned; all of our hearts were in our throats.”

Entanglement is a large-scale danger to whales. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation group (WDC) have joined with other organisations to research the scale and nature of the problem, and work towards finding solutions.