Fundy East Whale Rescue – FEWR
The Bay of Fundy is home to not only a vibrant fishing industry, but up to 12 species of whales. The International Whaling Commission estimates that 308,000 whales and dolphins die every year due to entanglement in fishing gear. Entanglement can lead to drowning, laceration, infection and starvation.
Until now, disentanglement rescues in the Bay of Fundy all rested on the shoulders of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, even those just off the coast of Brier Island.
Now the team from Campobello will be able to rely on the newly formed Fundy East Whale Rescue (FEWR) out of Brier Island.
“We’ve toyed with starting a team here for over 10 years,” explained FEWR member Shelley Lonergan. Lonergan’s day job as research coordinator and chief naturalist with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises brings her into contact with the Fundy whale population on a daily basis. In fact, Lonergan can recognize every whale she sees by their markings. If Lonergan doesn’t recognize them, they are probably here for the very first time.
After tragedy struck one of the most loved whales known to the folks on Brier Island, Lonergan spearheaded the formation of FEWR. Foggy the humpback was first brought to the waters off Brier Island by her mother during her first summer in 1987. For 30 years, Foggy came north each summer — her visits recorded since 1990 by Lonergan.
Last July, Foggy was spotted entangled in fishing gear.
“She means a lot to us,” said Lonergan. “When we saw her in the ropes, well, it breaks our heart when we see any whale that’s entangled, but especially when you see a whale that you have followed for so long and that you’ve kind of become attached to. A lot of people know Foggy. School kids know Foggy. She’s been on our Adopt a Whale List for years and there have been a lot of people adopt her because we know so much about her.”
The Campobello Whale Rescue Team was called, but it takes two to three hours for them to respond to a call in the southeast part of the Bay of Fundy.
“Any time she was sighted it was later in the day or when the weather wouldn’t permit the Campobello team to get over here,” explained Lonergan.
The end result was that no disentanglement attempt was made. After Aug. 1, Foggy wasn’t seen again.
“We’re not sure what had happened to her,” said Lonergan sadly.
The situation with Foggy brought home “the need for a team to be situated right here on Brier Island so we can get out there in less time,” according to Lonergan.
She went to work, got folks interested and set up the training. FEWR is a non-profit organization that will rely on the generosity of the public. The group has had lots of help getting off the ground from Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises.
“We’re running it (FEWR) out of Brier Island but most of the members are from Long Island, too. Also, we will rescue whales that are found off both islands,” explained Lonergan.
Last year, FEWR bought a 20-foot infla
table which will now be used specifically for its disentanglement calls. It will be kept on a trailer and “it will take maybe 10 minutes to get it in the water,” said Lonergan.
That means a much faster response time to call in the southeast part of the Bay of Fundy and more chance of positive outcomes.
The training that began last October will be ongoing.
“If Campobello gets called out to an entanglement, we will get called out as well so that we can see what they are doing and we can take part in what they are doing, just to get more hands on experience,” explained Lonergan.
In 2016, there were two reported incidents of entanglement near Brier Island — Foggy the humpback and a right whale. In both cases, the Campobello team was unable to respond and the fate of both whales remains uncertain.