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North Atlantic Right Whale Adoption Program 
24 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB E5G 1A1  Canada

506 662 9804

506 662 3804  (leave your name and number)

(Canadian Funds)




Donations are tax deductible in Canada


The adoption certificate (suitable for framing) is sent in a portfolio and includes the adoptee(s) name(s).  Each has a photo of the individual whale or matriarch of the family or photos of mother/calf pair.  A Family Tree is also included when adopting a family.  The portfolio will also include information about the adoptive whale(s), North Atlantic right whales and the research station.  A postcard, magnet or bookmark will also be included.

CLASS PROJECTS.  Personalized individual business-size cards can be included for each student as well as a class certificate.  An age-appropriate activity will also be included.

An update on the whales will be sent annually.  To continue receiving this newsletter an annual donation of $15 is required or other right whales can be adopted.

The Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station (GMWSRS) is a registered charity in Canada incorporated in 1981 by its founder, the late Dr. David Gaskin. 

Dr. Gaskin
We are dedicated to research and education which promote conservation of the marine environment.  Our researchers study seabirds and marine mammals in the lower Bay of Fundy, Canada, and develop/deliver education and stewardship programs through a natural history museum, invited lectures, publications, specific projects, a web site and outdoor exhibits.

Funding for this web site is from the Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk

and donations to the GMWSRS. 

© 2006-2011
 Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station Inc.

24 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB Canada
E5G 1A1

Ph. 506 662 3804
Fax 506 662 9804

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Modified July 3d 2011

Challenges to Recovery

Recovery of right whales is contingent on protecting their habitat and preventing accidental deaths.

Elements to consider:

  • Incidental deaths (ship strikes & entanglement)
  • Habitat changes
  • Toxins & pollutants
  • Genetic bottlenecking

Ship Strikes.

  • All large whales are affected by ship strikes but some seem more vulnerable than others. 
  • The location of whales and movement of vessels often  overlap
  • Whales use various areas for calving, breeding, feeding or migration
  • Vessels, both large and small, may be using shipping routes into ports, fishing, travelling through areas not regulated by shipping lanes, or other marine activities including pleasure trips. 
  • Some of the first recorded ship strikes with whales occurred in the 1800s.
right whale in shipping lane in Bay of Fundy

Why do vessels and whales collide? 

  • Many vessels travel much faster than whales can swim.
  • At night or in the fog captains can't see whales. 
  • Whales will sometimes surface after long dives and if travelling quickly through an area, the captain may not realize the whales are even there. 
  • Some people may assume that the whales will get out of the way. 
 But why don't the whales get out of the way?
  • Whales spend most of their time diving and when they surface they must recover from the previous dive and prepare for the next.  They may also rest at or near the surface.
  • Whales that live in areas where there aren't many vessels, such as in the high Arctic, react more strongly to motor noise.  Those that live along the busy areas, such as the eastern seaboard of North America, are less likely to react, probably habituated to vessel noise. 
But the problem is more complicated.
  • Most noise is coming from the stern or back of the vessel where the propellors are located. There is little noise at the bow. Noise in deep water does not travel as it does in shallow water and there may be spots where vessel noise can't be heard even though the vessel is moving toward the whale.
  • Many vessels travel much faster than many whales.  This does not give whales much time to react when surfacing from a dive.  Whales may not be able to dive deeply and quickly enough to avoid vessels with deep keels.

What can be done? 

  • Always have a dedicated bow watch when travelling in areas where whales are known to occur. 
  • Slow down so whales will have more time to get out of the way. 
  • Reroute trips to avoid areas where whales are located .  This is being proposed for an area off Nova Scotia where Right whales congregate in the summer and fall to feed.
  • Reroute shipping lanes outside of the whales most common areas if possible.  This was done in the Bay of Fundy in 2003 - the first time shipping lanes have been modified to protect a whale species.
  • Set up hydrophone arrays that can be accessed remotely.  By eavesdropping on the whales, vessel traffic can be notified of the presence of whales even when no boat or aerial surveys can be done. 
  • Delineate areas where whales are most common with conservation areas (as was done in the Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin off Nova Scotia) or marine protected areas which are clearly outlined on charts.  This, however, does not mean that the whales will only be here and caution should be taken in surrounding waters as well.


  • Many types of fishing require the fishing gear to be anchored in place (e.g. gill nets, herring weirs) or are traps sitting on the bottom with lines extending to the surface and buoys or floats to locate the gear (e.g. lobster, crab or cod traps). 
  • These lines in the water can extend to great depths where there is little light and therefore difficult or impossible to see.
  • If a whale is swimming in the vicinity of these lines, the rope may become lodge in the whale's mouth and baleen if the whale is feeding or wrapped around the whale's body if the whale becomes entangled in loose line.  The immediate reaction of the whale when the line is encountered is to roll which often makes it worse.  The whales are strong enough that they may part the rope and take some of the fishing gear with them.  Most rope is made to last and can remain on the whale for years.
  • Occasionally whales may also become entangled in the nets themselves.
  • Entrapment can also occur in such things as herring weirs, large traps near shore with large wooden poles driven in the bottom with netting wrapped around the entire structure.  An opening large enough for vessels (and whales) to enter usually faces the shore.

2 right whales in herring weir

What can be done?
  • Fishermen can avoid areas where whales are found.
  • Gear can be modified to limit the amount of rope and have weaker rope or breakaway links to allow the whales to free themselves. 
  • Ultimately the less rope in the water, the less likely whales will become entangled.  When whales are entangled, specialized teams can intervene by cutting lines off the whale but some right whales have been entangled in lines for years. 
  • Young whales that are rapidly growing are particularly vulnerable as the lines become tighter as the whale grows and can cut into their skin and even bone.  Infections can result and can kill the whale. 
  • The whale may also be prevented from feeding if some of the line is swallowed or tightly wrapped around the mouth.
  • Herring weir operators can remove the whales using techniques developed for this by the fishermen and the Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station. With right whales this usually means opening a section of the trap facing open water by removing netting and poles to the seafloor.  Once the opening is wide enough the right whale will immediately swim out.


Genetic analyses has been underway for over a decade. Genetic profiles help us:
  • determine individual relatedness and paternity
  • link dead whales and other samples of unknown origin back to known individuals
  • help us look at the genetic basis behind reproduction and health
  • help us determine how whaling affected this species.
right whale breaching
Right whale breaching in the Bay of Fundy.  Photo: Laurie Murison

Low Genetic Diversity

Right whale populations were severely reduced leading to low genetic diversity

This can lead to increased inbreeding, resulting in:

  • low reproductive rates
  • lower calf survival
  • lowered disease resistance

Some animal populations have recovered from similar situations

Intervention is not possible but protecting right whales from incidental mortality is crucial.
Major Habitat Areas of North Atlantic Right Whales
in the Western North Atlantic

right whale range, western North Atlantic

Habitat Changes

  • Right whales live along highly industrialized and busy coastlines.
  • Contaminants and other pollutants are becoming persistent.
  • Drugs and hormone mimicking chemicals are regularly discharged into ocean water.
  • Coastal waters are becoming increasingly nutrient rich promoting toxic blooms.
  • Species composition is changing.
  • Climate change is affecting water temperature and current patterns
.Delilah, dead right whale on flatbed

Dead right whale "Delilah" on flatbed being moved to necropsy site.  Photo: Laurie Murison

Healthy Environment

Any efforts to protect and restore local environments will ultimately also benefit the oceans.

  • Reduce and prevent discharge of excess nutrients & toxic chemicals - i.e. proper sewage treatment, proper disposal of chemicals
  • Reduce airborne pollution
  • Prevent global warming
  • Remember the 3 R’s - reduce, reuse, recycle

Habitat Changes: Disturbance

  • Noise levels have increased with more ship traffic, blasting, seismic exploration and other activities.
  • Acoustic deterrents for other species are increasingly used.
  • Right whales are repeatedly approached by whale watchers & researchers.


  • Establish guidelines of what are acceptable noise levels & disturbance
  • Develop whale watch regulations promoting cautious, respectful behaviour towards right whales
In the U.S.: a permit is required to approach a right whale closer than 500 yards (460 m), thus eliminating any right whale watching.
In Canada: Whale watchers have developed a Code of Ethics to reduce disturbance to right whales. Whale watching regulations &  licensing are being developed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Monitor research activities to limit potential, persistent disturbance & harmful activities

Habitat Changes: Inadequate Food Resources

  • Overfishing has changed species composition, resulting in changes in competition & prey availability
  • Destruction of the ozone layer can reduce phytoplankton a critical component of the ecosystem
  • Too many nutrients can promote growth of toxic phytoplankton


Establishing & maintaining management practices that protect & enhance the marine environment

Prevention of overfishing & careful consideration of “new” fisheries

Habitat Changes: Catastrophic Events

  • Oil spills are extremely destructive to the marine environment
  • Only limited information is available as to the effects on right whales
  • Other toxic chemicals are also transported over water or can enter from land spills

Bay of Fundy

  • Local groups, industry and government agencies regularly meet to develop contingency planning, train volunteers and educate the public in the event of a disaster
  • More information is needed to properly understand how to protect marine mammals, and in particular right whales
  • Proper disposal & treatment of petroleum products can help

mother and calf right whale diving
Mother and calf right whale diving in the Bay of Fundy.  Photo: Laurie Murison


  • North Atlantic right whales are highly endangered
  • By our mere existence, humans threaten the survival of right whales
  • Ship strikes & entanglement in fishing gear are recognized as leading causes of death
  • However, it is equally important to protect right whale habitat - which means preserving oceans from radical changes

The Whales & How These Problems Affect Them

Because right whales are:
  • slow swimming
  • difficult to see
  • rest at the surface
  • engage in surface social behaviour
  • react at the last minute to approaching vessels,
they are vulnerable to being hit.

Calvin #2223

At 8 months, Calvin was weaned prematurely when her mother,
Delilah #1223, was struck by a ship and killed in the Bay of Fundy.  Against all odds, she survived without her mother.  In 2000 Calvin was found entangled in fishing gear.  A satellite telemetry buoy was attached to a trailing line and she was tracked for several months as she travelled in the Gulf of Maine before the gear was successfully removed in 2001 by the disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, MA.  

Slash #1303:

Slash was discovered dead March 17, 2011, off the coast of Virginia. Her carcass wasn't recovered but it is suspected that she died from a vessel strike.

Kleenex #1142

The fathers of two of Kleenex's calves, (#1050 father of calf #1123 Drippy-nose, and Dingle #1144 father of calf #2642) have scarred flukes.  Scars can have many origins but one of the most common cause is entanglement in fishing gear – approximately 70% of right whales show some scarring that can be related to entanglement.  Scarring in right whales often turns white making the scars noticeable against the black or dark grey skin. 

Baldy #1240

#1144 (see above) is also the father of one of Baldy's calves, #1503, a female.

Genetic profiling has allowed identification of the sex of whales when not known and who the fathers are of some of the calves.  This then allows the building of family trees.  For instance, Dingle has been identified as the father of calves for both  Kleenex #1142 and Baldy #1240.  Not all males have been genetically profiled so more matches will be made.

Skin samples provide the live genetic material.  Skin samples are most frequently obtained through biopsies using a biopsy dart injected with a crossbow from a safe distance.  The whales usually do not react to the darting process.

Tissues from biopsies or dead whales can also be analyzed for contaminants.  Because right whales feed low on the food web zooplankton), their levels of contaminants are often low unlike beluga whales which often have high levels of contaminants but prefer eating fish and squid.

Right whales are also exposed to biotoxins such as red tide which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.  Continued exposure to this toxin can caused reproductive problems but it is unknown if right whales can deal more effectively with continued exposure than humans. 

When whales become the interest of the media because of entanglement they are usually given a name if they do not already have one.  Names give a more personal touch to the story than their catalogue numbers. 

Because of their endangered status, death of right whales from ship strikes can be a major factor in preventing the recovery of this species, particularly if the whales struck and killed are females, essentially to the survival of the species.  The number of whale deaths is underestimated because not all whales struck by ships are found.  The cause of death of all dead whales is not always known, particularly when the whales are badly decomposed.

Right Whale Characteristics

  • slow swimming
  • black or grey with white patches
  • v-shaped blow
  • no dorsal fin
  • large, broad flippers
  • lift their large black tail when diving
  • identified by craggy patches on their heads called callosities
  • very social engaging in surface activities
  • main prey are zooplankton (copepods and krill)

From the photo-identification work and coastal surveys, researchers have identified migratory routes and specific critical habitats commonly used by most right whales for calving, feeding and nursery areas.

Most calves are born in the coastal waters of the southeastern U.S. between December and March. After birth, calves are taken to nursery areas ranging from Cape Cod Bay north.

Distinct wintering ground for the rest of the right whales are not completely known.

By April many whales are found in their feeding areas in the Great South Channel and Cape Cod Bay.

By summer whales are found further north in the Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin. These areas have been identified as critical right whale habitats. 

Some whales may travel further north during the summer and fall to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and as far as Iceland.

The movement of right whales does place them in direct conflict with shipping, fishing, and habitat disturbances.

What happens if a dead right whale is found?
  • If the carcass can be recovered, a team will attempt a dissection or necropsy
  • Even though right whales were heavily hunted, little is known about them
  • Valuable information can be learned including cause of death
  • A growing number of museums have added skeletons to their collections to preserve & display

Role of Research

  • Even basic biology about right whales is lacking in many cases
  • Directed research can help with specific problems as well as generating new information
  • Long term research is essential to learn about a long-lived species