The Fundy Aquarium Ecozone is situated where the mouth of the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine in the Atlantic Ocean. Upwelling deep ocean water generated from tides surging into the Bay of Fundy fosters an ideal environment for marine life. Great whales, porpoises, dolphins, seals, and seabirds are highlights of this “aquarium without walls.” Environmentally sensitive coastal whale-watch tours are a unique and exhilarating way to explore this incredible ecosystem.
How to see the whales
Many companies offer whale-watching boat tours in the Fundy Aquarium Ecozone. Tours are available from May until October and usually take three to four hours. Whale-watch operators are based primarily out of Digby Neck and Islands, St. Andrews, Grand Manan Island and Deer Island. Whale-watching tours are available on refitted fishing boats, sailing vessels, and zodiacs.
Bay of Fundy whale-watch operators adhere to a Code of Ethics to govern how they interact with the whales because the Bay of Fundy is an important feeding area for some extremely rare species (such as the Right whale). This ensures that whale-watching boats don’t crowd or harass the whales.
Whales of the Bay of Fundy
The Humpback whale
The Humpback whale is the most common large whale in the Bay of Fundy. Humpbacks grow to be about 16 m (52′) long and weigh up to 36 tonnes. These slow-swimming whales are sometimes seen playfully breaching or lunging out of the water. Humpbacks have different markings along their pectoral fins and flukes (tails), so each whale is easily identifiable. These baleen whales feed on plankton such as krill (tiny shrimp) and small fish such as herring. Baleen whales scoop up mouthfuls of water and filter the food through their baleen “strainers”. An average Humpback will eat two tonnes (5,000 lbs) of plankton and small fish each day and live up to 77 years.
Humpbacks are commonly seen in the Bay of Fundy. At any one time during the summer, 100 Humpbacks may be found in the Fundy Aquarium Ecozone. Humpbacks are famous for being “singing whales” — their exotic songs are thought to be a means of communication. These migratory whales travel to food-rich northern waters such as the Bay of Fundy for the summer and return to warm tropical waters each winter to reproduce.
The Finback whale
The Finback whale, the second largest animal on earth, can be up to 24 m (80′) long, which is just short of the Blue whale. Their long, streamlined bodies make them fast swimmers they’ve been known to travel 40 km/h (25 m/h). They weigh an average of 73 tonnes. Finback whales are not as numerous in the Bay of Fundy as Humpbacks, but they sometimes arrive early in the season (late May) and stay until late fall.
Finbacks can live up to 100 years. Like Humpbacks and Right whales, Finbacks are baleen whales that feed on krill and small fish such as herring. Finbacks tend to travel in groups or pods, but they are often seen alone or as a mother-and-calf pair early in the Bay of Fundy’s season.
The North Atlantic Right whale
Only 300 North Atlantic Right whales are currently in existence because they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s. Although Right whales have been a protected species since 1930, extinction remains a threat for the world’s most rare whale. Eighteenth-century whalers named them Right whales because these easy-to-catch whales that floated when killed were the right ones to harvest.
Right whales, which are found only in the North Atlantic, come to the Bay of Fundy to feed, mate, and raise their young. These baleen whales are attracted to the abundant food in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine. Although few in number, Right whales still come together as a community, which may be important in helping young whales find mates. Right whales grow up to 15 m (50′) in length and weigh approximately 45 tonnes.
The Minke whale
Minke whales, the smallest baleen whale, are normally 9 m (30′) in length and weigh about nine tonnes, and they live up to 50 years. Although Minke whales are relatively small, they can make amazingly loud sounds. Their underwater communication has been measured at 152 decibels, which is equivalent to the sound of a jet taking off! Minke whales can also make loud noises through their blowholes; they like to swim close to land, and their breathing can sometimes be heard from shore.
Minkes are much more common than the larger whales, but they seem to be shy and are often seen alone. There are an estimated 8,000 Minke whales worldwide. Minke whales normally occupy the Bay of Fundy from May until late fall. While they are safe in the Bay of Fundy, countries such as Norway and Japan still hunt for them in other parts of the world.
Other Fundy marine mammals
The White-sided dolphin
White-sided dolphins are often seen riding the bow waves of Passamaquoddy ferries! These small marine mammals sometimes frolic alongside whales and vessels. These dolphins are common along the eastern seaboard and are normally encountered during the summer in the Bay of Fundy. White-sided dolphins are usually seen in small groups but sometimes travel in groups of up to 100. Dolphins are quite agile and often leap playfully out of the water.
The Harbour porpoise
Harbour porpoises are common in the Bay of Fundy. These marine mammals are not as agile as dolphins and move by rolling slowly forward in the water. Porpoises tend to travel in small groups of 2 to 5 animals.