Danielle Dion has spent much of the last 22 years aboard a Quoddy Link Marine whale watching tour boat in Canada.
Until about a decade ago, the senior marine biologist and naturalist could regularly spot her favorite species of whale, the North Atlantic right whale, which relied on the Bay of Fundy as a “critical feeding habitat,” she told McClatchy News.
“They really have abandoned this as as a feeding habitat due to a lack of food,” Dion said. “They have mostly shifted completely out of the Bay of Fundy, further north, and about a third of the population is now visiting areas like the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in order to find food.”
What was once a regular occurrence for Dion is now a rarity. The last time she saw a right whale was in 2019, and the species had yet to frequent the bay at all in 2023 — until now.
Dion was leading a tour in the bay on Saturday, Sept. 30, when a whale appeared ahead of the boat’s stern, according to a Facebook post from the tour agency. It was a North Atlantic right whale, and there were three more alongside it.
“To find right whales, not one but four individuals, was...I was in tears,” Dion said. “I had a hard time even talking to my passengers for a couple of minutes as I composed myself.”
Dion and other experts aboard the ship photographed and documented the whales, using scarring and callosities to identify the whales and distinguish between them, she said. They contacted the Canadian Whale Institute, which confirmed the whales’ species identification.
“It was an incredibly special experience,” Dion said. “I personally haven’t seen a right whale since 2019.”
North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered species of large whales in the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Experts believe there are less than 350 individuals left in the population which has been experiencing an “unusual mortality event” since 2017.
Dion said changing water temperatures are likely behind the species’ abandonment of the Bay of Fundy.
“It’s happening fast,” she said.
As of Oct. 2 at least some of the whales were still in the bay, Dion said.
“I don’t know how else to describe to my passengers other than to say it’s a privilege to spend time in the presence of a critically endangered species,” Dion wrote in the agency’s Facebook post. “I was in AWE.”
Other social media users shared their excitement on Facebook.
“Ohh my heart!! This is so so amazing and I’m so happy for everyone who had the experience of seeing such a beautiful species,” one person commented.
“WOW!! Wonderful to see these rare majestic creatures,” another person commented.
“Amazing pictures. Incredible day. A Right Whale…wow,” a third person wrote.
The Bay of Fundy is about 100 miles northeast of Bar Harbor, Maine.