Whale Visitors to Nova Scotia Waters

It is almost guaranteed that whale watchers will see whales off the Nova Scotia coast if they go at the right time of year. Broadly speaking, this is from spring to autumn. What breeds of whales are they likely to see, and what are their particular characteristics?

At around 25ft to 30 ft in length, the minke whale is the second smallest of the baleen whales, the smallest being the pygmy right whale. Interestingly, all minke whales worldwide were once thought to be just one species. However, recently they have been reclassified into two species: the Antarctic minke and the common minke. While the common minke whale can easily be recognised by clear white markings on its flippers, the Antarctic minke is not so distinctive in colour. In the summer season, minke whales are abundant in the North Atlantic Ocean, migrating southwards towards breeding waters. Being baleen whales, they filter feed on plankton, krill and smaller fish such as sardines.

As suggested by their name, humpback whales have very recognisable hump over the dorsal fin. This helps make the sight of them breaching a popular sight with whale watchers. They are around 50 ft long, with the tail making up a full third of that length. A distinctive white marking on the edge of their tail fluke further aids identification. Some of their breaching behaviours include tail slapping on the water’s surface and spy hopping, which is when a whale raises its head and upper body above the water while turning around. This has given them a reputation for being curious. Humpback whales are also seasonal feeders, consuming food to store in their bodies for when they migrate away from northern waters.

The most endangered whale is the dark-coloured North Atlantic right whale. These whales are huge, weighing up to 100 tons and measuring around 60 ft in length. In the 19th century they were named by hunters as the right whale to target, because of their size, slow speed and the fact that they would float on the surface after being killed, making it easy to tow them ashore. Now, with an estimated fewer than 400 surviving Atlantic right whales, they face threats mainly from human activity – pollution, large scale fishing, shipping.

The fishing industry follows strict codes of practice to protect the creatures. The Bay of Fundy is an important safe area for them to raise their calves. But, says the Director of the WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation group), Regina Asmutis-Silvia, “The notable absence of protections for the migratory corridor that connects (their) two habitats remains a concern.”

The finback whale is second only to the blue whale in size, growing up to 62 ft long. Its name may refer to the distinct ridge behind the dorsal fin, on the back, which also gave them their nickname, razorback. Whale watchers will look out for its unusual lower jaw colouring: white right side and black left side. They are most often seen in small pods of less than 10 whales. Their water spouts can go as high as 13 feet and are observable from a mile away.


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