What is it about Brier Island that keeps five species of whales returning, year after year? It’s got something to do with the island’s spectacular location at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.
The Bay of Fundy churns 160 billion tonnes of water each tide cycle. The currents, tides, and upwellings help tiny organisms called “plankton” to grow and multiply. Plankton attract fish, the fish attract whales, and the whales fill their bellies with delicious herring and mackerel.
So, like humans, the whales come to Brier Island because of the great food. 🙂
The Brier Island / Bay of Fundy area is a safe place for whale calves. Whale mothers bring their calves to feed at Brier Island during the warm summer. The calves feed, grow, and eventually bring their own calves to the Bay of Fundy.
The dependability of seeing whales makes Brier Island an amazing location for whale watching.
On a Brier Island / Bay of Fundy whale watching tour, you’re likely to see humpback and fin whales, harbour porpoises, and Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Other less common marine residents you can spot include sunfish, pilot whales, minke whales, and the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.
Keep reading to learn more about the sea creatures that visit Brier Island. Or click here to return to ‘Why Visit Brier Island’.
The Humpback Whale
This playful whale gets its name from the way it arches its back out of the water before diving. The humpback is known for singing beautiful songs, and is very family oriented.
- The pattern on each humpback’s tail is unique, similar to a human’s fingerprint. This makes it possible to identify individual whales. Brier Island whale watching guides can recognize many humpback visitors by their tail patterns.
- Humpback whales are known to be some of the most playful whales, and love to perform for tour boats (at least they seem to). If you’re lucky you’ll see them breaching, jumping, tail slapping, or spyhopping (poking their heads out of the water to check things out).
The Fin Whale
Commonly known as “the greyhound of the deep” because of its long and slender body, the Fin Whale is second in size only to the Blue Whale (the largest mammal in the sea).
- Usually found in small groups (about two to seven whales per pod), fin whales are often loners and you may see only one swimming alone.
- Fin whales can be found almost all over the world, and years ago were frequent victims of the whaling industry. Today, they are most often seen in the North Atlantic, including Brier Island.
The (stinky) Minke Whale
These whales have a distinctive white band on their flipper and usually live at the surface, making them a frequent sight on Brier Island whale watching tours.
- Traveling in pods of about two to three whales, they commonly feed on plankton, krill, and small fish and have even been reported to chase small schools of herring and cod.
- You might hear a whale watching guide refer to them as “stinky Minke” because of their notoriously bad breath. They say that even in a fog, you can smell the air that comes out of a Minke whale’s blowhole. Ew!
The North Atlantic Right Whale
This beautiful and graceful whale is endangered, having been hunted by the whaling industry for hundreds of years.
- The head of a right whale is typically covered in bumps of white tissue called “callosities”. The pattern of callosities is unique to each whale, and is used by researches to identify individuals.
- Right whales are endangered and the small population makes it difficult to track their distribution. During the summer they are most observed in conservation areas of the Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin, off Nova Scotia.
The Pilot Whale
This toothed whale’s favourite food is squid, but they’re not too picky and also eat fish. They are very social, and live in large groups from 10 up to 100 (or more) individuals.
- Toothed like a killer whale but smaller, pilot whales are dark black or dark grey, have a blunted nose, and a “melon” head.
- Pilot whales like deep water, making them a rare and exciting find on any whale watching tour.
The White-Sided Dolphin
White-sided dolphins are playful and curious creatures. You might see them jumping and splashing beside a whale watching boat, or playing together in a group nearby. They live in groups that can number up to 60 or more individuals.
- The Atlantic white-sided dolphin has a black back, with dark grey flanks. You’ll be able to tell this dolphin from others because of the long white oval patch below the dorsal fin, unique to this species.
The Harbour Porpoise
The harbour porpoise is one of the smallest marine mammals found off the coast of Brier Island. It is dark grey all over, except for its belly which can be light grey to white. Porpoises have a blunter nose than a dolphin, and a smoother, more rounded head.
- Harbour porpoises are loners, but sometimes travel in groups up to five individuals. They come to Brier Island to dine on its abundant fish life.
The Ocean Sunfish
Around 2011 a bizarre-looking boney fish called the Ocean Sunfish started showing up near Brier Island and the Bay of Fundy. Normally found in tropical waters, the sunfish (also called the Mola-Mola) is the largest boney fish in the world, some weighing up to 2,200kg (5,000 lbs).
- Sunfish can swim near the surface, their fin sticking up like a shark’s. But often they float on their side, letting their huge flank soak up the sun.
Brier Island is a three-season home to harbour seals and grey seals. Unlike whales (who only visit during the warm months), the seals’ thick blubber help them stay warm in cold water. They move south for a very short time in the winter to breed, but can be seen most of the year at Brier Island.
- Seals on Brier Island particularly like basking on the rocks at Seal Cove and Gull Rock, but if you look out to the water anywhere along Brier Island’s coast, you can often spot seals swimming around.