Who are the northern bottlenose whales of the Scotian Shelf?
A small, endangered population of northern bottlenose whales inhabits a limited area some 200 km off Nova Scotia’s coast. A good understanding of the biology of this population is required in order to ensure better protection.
To go through the looking glass
Almost every year since 1988, Hal Whitehead and his team visit the deep underwater canyons off Nova Scotia. They study the small population of resident northern bottlenose whales from aboard their research sailboat Balaena. The research team observes and notes the position, movement and behaviour of these animals and photo-identifies them. They also record northern bottlenose whale vocalizations along with ambient sounds, including the vocalizations of other whales and noise from seismic surveys and ships. Finally, they note the presence of other species that visit the area.
The Scotian Shelf northern bottlenose whale population is made up of a mere 130 animals. Whales that are members of this population do not appear to migrate. They live 1400 km south of their closest neighbouring population, the northern bottlenose whales of northern Labrador. Although they are not a distinct species, they are a genetically distinct population. On average, they are smaller than their Labrador counterparts and appear to breed at a different time of the year.
Northern bottlenose whales of the Scotian Shelf depend heavily on the Sable Island Gully, a deep underwater canyon where 34 percent of the population resides permanently. They also visit other canyons in the area: the Shortland Canyon and the Haldiman Canyon. Unfortunately these three canyons are situated near gas leases, which represent the most important threat to this population.
Hal Whitehead Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), World Wildlife Fund Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
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