Marine Mammal Research Program

Stranding Causes

Yearly numerous cetaceans and pinnipeds wash up dead along the coastline in the Bay of Fundy region. Any death is regrettable but it is important to try to understand the causes for these mortalities. Working with other governmental and local organizations, OERS sends teams out to such strandings and assists with necropsies, or even conducts their own when no one else will respond. Cetacean strandings are often a result of ship strikes or predation but occasionally no clear cause can be determined. Many pinnipeds who have stranded were juveniles undergoing their first molt> This is a known sensitive time for them as they are very susceptible to hypothermia. Also at this young age, if they cannot find adequate food, they will also die of malnutrition. By responding to as many of these events as possible OERS is helping to understand what may have happened to these individuals, which could help mitigate causes if identified.

Heavy metal accumulation in cetaceans and pinnipeds

Increases in heavy metal levels have been reported in the Bay of Fundy and surrounding waters. Whether this has any impact on the marine mammals in this area is unknown and forms the focus for this OERS work. By sampling tissues from key organs involved in either storing or eliminating these contaminants in various cetaceans and pinnipeds that strand and die, a picture can be formed of how relevant this issue might be to the welfare of species that either reside in the area or migrate through stopping to feed on the abundant prey species found there. To date whales species studied include the Blue, Right, Humpback, Pilot whales, and Harbor porpoise, White-sided and Striped dolphin. For pinnipeds, Grey and Harbor seals are the main species studied.