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ESR 39:159-171 (2019)  -  DOI:

Variation in North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis occurrence in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, over three decades

Kimberley T. A. Davies1,2,*, Moira W. Brown3,4, Philip K. Hamilton4, Amy R. Knowlton4, Christopher T. Taggart2, Angelia S. M. Vanderlaan5

1Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Brunswick, 100 Tucker Park Rd, Saint John, New Brunswick E2L 4L5, Canada
2Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, 1355 Oxford Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada
3Canadian Whale Institute, Wilson’s Beach, New Brunswick E5E 1S9, Canada
4Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts 02110, USA
5Ocean and Ecosystem Sciences Division, Bedford Institution of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4A2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis (hereafter right whales) have recently shifted their distribution away from some protected feeding habitats, which suggests large-scale changes in food supply have occurred. Quantifying the nature and extent of the apparent shift is key to exploring this hypothesis and planning or revising conservation strategies. This paper characterizes decadal right whale occurrence in the Bay of Fundy summer feeding habitat using data derived from 7522 h of survey effort collected over 30 yr (1987 to 2016) that yielded 11483 right whale sightings. Eight occurrence descriptors were derived to quantify temporal variation in right whale presence, encounter rates and time of arrival in the Bay. Time of arrival was modeled using linear and power function models fit to annual discovery curves. Principal component analysis showed 2 modes that explained 58 and 14% of the variation in occurrence, respectively. The first mode captured a significant decline in summertime right whale occurrence beginning in 2010. The second mode captured a decadal-scale cycle in seasonal timing of occurrence, which highlighted a sharp change from early to late occupancy at the turn of the millennium. Annual occurrence during the 2010-2016 period was anomalously low in both the Grand Manan Basin critical habitat and the Bay of Fundy Traffic Separation Scheme (shipping lanes), whereas encounters in the region NW of the critical habitat containing Owen Basin and The Wolves islands may be increasing due to a distributional shift within the Bay. We discuss the consequences of these changes for both population dynamics and future conservation of the species.

KEY WORDS: North Atlantic right whale · Critical habitat · Calanus finmarchicus · Bay of Fundy · Habitat use · Occurrence · Immigration · Foraging ecology

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Cite this article as: Davies KTA, Brown MW, Hamilton PK, Knowlton AR, Taggart CT, Vanderlaan ASM (2019) Variation in North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis occurrence in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, over three decades. Endang Species Res 39:159-171.

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