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Whales of 2001 Whales of 2001

by Dave Snowby Dave Snow
Watching the watchers - the humpback whale experience

It was an amazing year for whales. Our first 2001 visit to Labrador had our guests witness the spectacle of an orca in hot pursuit of a minke whale. While we didn’t get to photograph that fast-moving episode, our luck was excellent for the rest of the year. Our Whale Study Week and Wildlife Adventure guests contributed more useful whale tail photos to the world-wide humpback census than ever before. We enjoyed wonderful weather, great photographic conditions, and some amazing beach-side shows featuring the most frequent and best photographed lunge feeding displays in over a decade. We also saw dozens of frisky humpback calves, some breaching minke whales, several curious fin whales, and later in the year, groups of up to 150 dolphins.

A young beluga added delight to our later Viking Trail Experience holidays. This wild beluga, following a dolphin-family tradition that has been documented for over 3,000 years, approached several dozen of our guests over the late summer and fall. For at least three years, this little white whale has evaded the orcas we are continuing to see along the coast. We are hoping for more visits with “Lenny” in 2002!

We continue to document local orca populations and in 2001 we became aware of two new coastal areas that were occupied by orcas for periods of up to several months. This seasonal residency by killer whales has never been reported in this part of the world; and we will be attempting to census the whales and document this phenomenon during 2002. Check out our Orca Expedition literature for more information.

Our staff members have been studying the province’s whales since 1979. Every year is unique and gives us more to ponder. In 2001, we found that the dolphins were “late” and waited until August before joining our boats near St. John’s. This was also a year when harbour porpoises proved to be rare but the bigger whales and dolphins were putting on such a show that most folks put very little effort into looking for them. While the past few years have featured encouraging reports of increased harbour porpoise abundance, our smallest member of the whale family is still an endangered species. Our only rare whale sighting of 2001 was a Sowerby’s beaked whale. Very little is known about the abundance and life history of this deep-diving, squid eating animal. It was also a great year for bird watching and sightseeing all around Newfoundland and Labrador. Several holidays generated interesting trip lists of whales, birds, butterflies, rare plants, and rare animals. The rare animals included basking sharks, several sturgeons, sea turtles, several vagrant songbirds, the first northern wheatear ever recorded nesting in Newfoundland (our Kim Coffin was the first person in Newfoundland to spot this one!), an albatross, and several sunfish.

We continue to coordinate the Newfoundland and Labrador portion of the global census of humpback whales. This is a big job since our area is home to the planet’s largest feeding gathering of humpbacks. In addition, we also pass along other wildlife reports and sighting to the appropriate research organizations. We continue to welcome all photos and stories. They make our day!

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