Grand Manan Whale
and Seabird Research Station

We have
conducted research
in the Bay since
the early 80's.

Since the early 1980’s the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station has been conducting science-based activities in the Bay of Fundy to support our motto: Research and Education to support Conservation.  Our Harbour Porpoise Release Program was set up to assist local fishermen with the safe release of porpoises from their herring weirs.  Over the years, hundreds were released alive back into the wild. 

For many years this program was a resounding conservation success story and was central to our research activities and today most weir fishermen routinely free porpoises and other marine mammals without our assistance.
Over the decades, research topics have ranged from satellite tracking studies of marine mammals and seabirds to detailed descriptions of the fatty acid and energy composition of Atlantic herring and zooplankton. Most have remained grounded to our core belief that any work we do should ultimately help the Bay of Fundy and the animals that live there.
Today the science conducted at the GMWSRS is focused on documenting and understanding how the Bay of Fundy is changing in response to the changing global climate. Like many regions on the planet, the Bay is undergoing ecological changes, some of which have been linked to ocean warming.
Here are a few examples that highlight some of our latest work in examining this issue.
Removing a harbour porpoise from a herring weir using our specially designed mammal seine (green net). Since 1990 hundreds of these rescues have taken place.


Our work on the American lobster generally focuses on studying their reproduction which is essential to managing a healthy fishery. Our latest efforts have involved recording the thermal preferences of ovigerous (egg bearing) and
v-notched female lobsters in the Bay of Fundy/Gulf of Maine, and how these compare to available temperatures. Temperature is critical for successful reproduction in lobsters so understanding the temperatures females encounter is an important part of our overall understanding of the reproductive process. To date we have deployed 126 Hobo thermal loggers on lobsters and we are relying on the participation and cooperation of the local lobster fleets to recapture the tags to retrieve the data. So far, we have had 29 tag returns which is much higher than we initially expected! We are hoping that when the lobsters start crawling again in the later spring, we will have more tags come back – perhaps even from fishers in Maine and Nova Scotia.
Here you can see a photo of a female lobster with a Hobo temperature tag on her left claw. The yellow zip tie on her other claw is part of a movement study, in which we have deployed >2500 tags since November 2019, and had returns from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Maine. The farthest distance traveled so far has been >400 km (>200 nautical miles). We also put loggers on the lobster traps themselves to generate detailed records of water temperatures throughout the winter.

Bottom water temperatures (C°) collected on lobster traps below 200 m between Dec and June for 2009-10, 2016-2020 in the Bay of Fundy.  

Water temperature record from an American Lobster in the Bay of Fundy between Dec 2020 and March 2021. 


Zooplankton are small invertebrates that inhabit all the oceans of the world. In the Bay of Fundy, the zooplankton community is dominated by one species, Calanus finmarchicus. We have been collecting samples of Calanus for over a decade and have documented historic declines in both their relative abundance and energetic value. These changes coincided with dramatic decreases in the number of sightings of North Atlantic right whales in the Bay. This was not a surprise since Calanus make up most of the diet of right whales. We attribute the absence of right whales in the Bay, in part, to the decline in the quality and quantity of their food source. Without our long-term data collection this trend would have been much more difficult to document.

Calanus finmarchicus

Basking sharks

Despite being the largest fish found in Canadian waters, we actually know very little about basking sharks. We began our work with this species in 2008 in an attempt the shed some light on this regular summertime inhabitant of the Bay. Over the years we have counted, photographed and tagged numerous individuals.

An adult basking sharks swimming next to our survey boat.

We deployed pop-up tags on basking sharks in the Bay of Fundy to learn about their migration patterns. These tags collect data over a set period of time and then “pop-off” and transmit their information via satellites back to us! Basking sharks typically arrive in the Bay of Fundy in May and June. Numbers vary but recent aerial survey work by our team revealed around 400 sharks on average per summer. While in the Bay they feed on Calanus, just like right whales. They leave the Bay of Fundy around mid-October and move off the continental shelf into much deeper water. One tag popped a shark just south of Cuba!
We deployed time-depth recorders on basking sharks in the Bay of Fundy to learn about their diving behavior. Basking sharks are very busy divers! They routinely swim from the surface to the bottom of the Bay (220m) but sometimes remain at depth for longer periods, presumably feeding. During winter months we have recorded dives of 1800m in the Sargasso and Caribbean seas.

4-day diving record from a basking shark in the Bay of Fundy.

Because of their diving behavior, basking sharks make an ideal platform of opportunity to sample water temperatures. A single basking shark with a 5-day deployment can provide us with over 430,000 water temperature readings, usually sampled throughout the whole water column. We compile the data from all the tagged sharks for each summer to provide a detailed record of summertime water temperatures in the Bay. These data provided us with the first clues about the now famous “summer heat wave” of 2012. Coupled with our wintertime lobster trap temperatures, we now have year-round water temperature recordings in the Bay of Fundy. This monitoring will be critical as the climate changes in the coming decades.