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Whales and Wildlife of 2007Whales and Wildlife of 2007

by Dave Snowby Dave Snow
Male orca off the Labrador coast

During 2007 we enjoyed a wonderful summer of whale watching and study. All of our guests on all of our week-long excursions viewed members of the world’s largest humpback whale gathering together with other marine mammal species. Our Whale Study Weeks included humpbacks, minkes, dolphins, fin whales, and sperm whales while our Southern Labrador Adventure featured orcas, a minke whale, hundreds of dolphins, fin whales, and harbour porpoises. We collected many scientifically useful photos and company president Dave Snow co-authored the first draft of Canada’s status report document on Atlantic orcas. Our tours also worked to document a number of incidents of orca predation on other whales. Look for our Atlantic Whales site to feature photos of the white beaked dolphins and the minke whale calf that were taken by orcas along northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador. We are continually enhancing this on-line catalogue of Newfoundland and Labrador’s humpbacks and orcas so that researchers and whale lovers can keep better track of the local whales.One of the mysteries of the summer was the appearance of substantial groups of belugas along the south Labrador coast. Single belugas have been occasionally sighted on our trips for years but this year separate groups of 7, 12 and 14 animals were seen together with some individuals. It is likely these are high arctic animals that have decided to swim south to Labrador/northern Newfoundland, perhaps seeking out the endangered belugas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This phenomenon has never been recorded before.The recovery of offshore fish stocks, especially the keystone fish known as caplin, meant that some humpbacks stayed offshore among this abundant Grand Banks food source. The groups of humpbacks we did regularly and reliably see included many previously photographed humpbacks; and confirmed our observations that we have seasonally residential (summer) humpbacks. One individual humpback (HWC#3655) photographed off Witless Bay in 1990 and the Northern Peninsula in 1992 by Dr. Jon Lien of Memorial University was photographed by whale enthusiast and regular Wildland Tours guest Arlene Erven off St. Anthony in July 2006 and Witless Bay in July 2007. When combined with the February 1993 observation of this individual on the Silver Banks in the Dominican, we have a good idea of this whale’s migratory behaviour. Arlene’s July 2005 photo of another humpback first photographed in July 1980 (HWC#3025) provides another useful insight as scientists, aided by our Wildland Tours’ guests, work to better understand the life history of these spectacular marine mammals.Another 2007 highlight for our Newfoundland and Labrador team saw our Manager Ann Simmons travel to northern Labrador in preparation for our two 2008 polar bear expeditions (which are already sold out). Ann saw polar bears, black bears, seals, harlequin ducks, minke whales, a wolf, caribou, and a host of other animals. She also brought back an anecdotal report of a pair of two-meter tusks collected (and sold) by a local hunter; suggesting that woolly mammoths or mastodons once called this coast home. Our excitement about this new 2008 polar bear expedition was heightened by our provincial whale study network reporting groups of orcas off the north coast for the first time in recent, recorded history. At least one of these orcas went into a large fjord in pursuit of seals or arctic char.Whales were just part of the fun. Our season included rare birds, leatherback turtles, numerous icebergs, and many adventures shared with enthusiastic travelers that came as customers and left as friends. We invite you to check the stories and photos on our websites (Adventure Newfoundland; Atlantic Whales; Wildland Tours) and to join us and the whales in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2008.

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