Four North Atlantic right whales were spotted Saturday in the Bay of Fundy — the first documented sighting of the species in that area this year.
North Atlantic right whales are endangered with fewer than 350 remaining.
Danielle Dion, a biologist and naturalist with Quoddy Link Marine, said the whale-watching company based in St. Andrews, N.B., headed out on the Bay of Fundy with crew and 31 passengers Saturday morning.
It was a foggy morning and the captain decided to take the boat to an area the ship hadn't explored in several weeks.
Once the fog lifted, some crew members noticed tails a couple of miles away, so they headed toward them and waited for the whales to resurface.
Dion said right whales lack a dorsal fin, unlike most whale species. (Quoddy Link Marine/Facebook )
When a whale came close to the boat, Dion and a fellow crew member yelled out "right whale!"
"For a couple minutes, I could barely talk," she said.
"I was in tears. It's such a special experience to see these animals that are critically endangered."
Dion said the whales were spotted more than a kilometre northeast of Eastern Wolf Island.
"Every sighting is very important," said Dion, noting how few North Atlantic right whales exist.
Dion said she and the team quickly began documenting the sightings and called the Canadian Whale Institute for official documentation.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans was also contacted, along with Fundy Traffic.
Moira Brown, senior scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute, said her team was already in the Bay of Fundy conducting surveys when she got the call.
Moira Brown, senior scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Institute, said she was worried there would be no North Atlantic right whale sightings in the Bay of Fundy this year. (Nick Hawkins)
They were able to identify the four whales as North Atlantic right whales — a welcome confirmation.
Brown said that while right whale sightings have become more rare in the last two decades, she could rely on seeing a few each spring.
"We hadn't had any sightings reported so far this year, so we thought, 'Well, jeez, is this going to be the first year without any right whale sightings?' And then, boom, four show up."
She said the next step is to identify each of the whales to know whether they have been in the Bay of Fundy before.
The institute will also keep tabs on the whales over the next few weeks.
There are believed to be fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales left in existence, making them critically endangered. (Quoddy Link Marine/Facebook )
Dion said this sighting was significant because, prior to 2012, North Atlantic right whales were quite abundant in the Bay of Fundy. About two-thirds of their population would feed there.
"In the past decade, this species has abandoned this habitat due to a lack of food and have moved further north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence," said Dion.
Because of this, right whale sightings in the Bay of Fundy have become increasingly rare, she said.
Dion said she's documented 150 right whales in her 22 years with Quoddy Link Marine. But the last time she saw one in person was 2019.
She said right whales are distinct because they lack a dorsal fin, unlike most whales, and they have a unique shape to their head.
"When you have a close view of them, they're really unmistakable," she said.
DFO did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.