A Busy Season for CWHC-Atlantic

This has been a very busy summer for the Atlantic CWHC crew. Early in June this year, we were alerted to the presence of a north Atlantic right whale (NARW; Eubalaena glacialis) carcass floating off the west coast of the Magdalen Islands, in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This would mark the beginning of what would become an unprecedented NARW mortality event, totaling at least 10 dead whales over the course of two months. This is almost 2% of the current estimate of the NARW population size (around 500 individuals) which is a tragic and unsustainable loss for this endangered species. NARWs are a far ranging, coastal species that traditionally migrate between the Bay of Fundy, where they spend the summer feeding on tiny marine crustaceans known as copepods, and the south eastern coast of the US, where they have their winter calving grounds. The presence of NARWs in the Gulf is a relatively new occurrence, and may indicate a change in the distribution of the whale’s food source or a reduction in the quality of food present in the bay of Fundy. The reasons for the change in the distribution of these whales, and the primary cause of death in those carcases found floating in the Gulf, are still under investigation. The CWHC is working with our partners in the Marine Animal Response Society, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to answer these questions which are critical to preventing this tragedy from recurring in subsequent years.


Photo credit: Marine Animal Response Society, 2017.


On a happier note, we had a simply fabulous crew of summer veterinary students (Briar Spinney, Liam Shea, and Ashley Powell) this year who dedicated many hours of their weekends to helping us work up these right whale cases. Just last week we said goodbye to them as they returned to their lecture rooms for their third year of the DVM program at the Atlantic Veterinary College. Below you can see our happy crew sitting around the table at a local pub, sharing some pints and memories.


Article contributed by Dr. Laura Bourque, Wildlife Pathologist CWHC-Atlantic.


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