September 17, 2016
A boat of whale watchers spent 30 to 40 minutes Sept. 17 observing the solitary whale swimming with about 20 or 30 dolphins just off the coast of Brier Island.
Shelley Longeran, research co-ordinator with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises, has seen Ol’ Tom a few times and gets just as worked up every time.
“Oh yes it was exciting – every bit as exciting as the first time I saw him,” she said to the Courier by phone. “I’ve been doing this 28 years and even to see a humpback I get really excited. You get to know these whales – that sounds funny – but you do, you get to see the different personalities and you look forward to seeing certain individuals.”
Ol’ Tom has been coming into the Bay of Fundy every couple years since at least 2006. Longeran saw him in 2010 and in 2015, swimming with dolphins like he was this year.
Orcas are toothed whales of the dolphin family and, like all dolphins, orcas usually travel in a permanent family social group called a pod. Longeran suspects Ol’ Tom might have been orphaned.
She has photos of a pod of orcas in the Bay of Fundy in 1999 and she wants to check and see if he was part of that group.
Every orca has a uniquely-shaped saddle patch, which enables whale watchers and researchers to identify and tell them apart.
The first to spot Ol’ Tom this morning was Harold Graham, the owner of Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises.
He often drives to North Point on Brier Island and watches for whales from shore and then directs the boat to the whales.
“He was telling us, ‘There are a couple of humpbacks over there, there is another one over there,’ and then he said ‘Oh there’s an orca out there,’” says Longeran.
Longeran says they also saw about 500 dolphins in the Bay today and nine humpbacks up close with more in the distance.
“This has been one of the best summers we’ve ever had: whale wise we’re up and people wise too,” she said.
In a normal summer they document about 140 to 150 individual humpback whales, but this year they identified 170.
Numbers of minke and fin whales are also up, but not right whales – those have moved further north to Cape Breton and the St. Lawrence chasing after food.
Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises will be offering whale watch trips until the Thanksgiving weekend.