Is Lobster Larvae Decline a Factor in Whale Deaths?

Editor’s Note: This is Alain’s final contribution to The Navigator Magazine. Our long-time, revered, Nova Scotia fisheries contributor passed away on August 5 in Yarmouth. He will be missed, not only by the readers of this publication, but by the fishing industry as a whole.


Marine scientists now believe the lack of lobster postlarvae is the culprit behind the right whales vacating their feeding grounds at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy and migrating to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Major lobster fishing sites around the Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotia, including Lobster Bay off south western Nova Scotia, have literally shown a collapse in postlarvae, which is the main food source for the right whale.

A recent deadly accident claimed the life of Nova Scotia-born lobsterman Joe Howlett, who fished out of New Brunswick. Howlett’s other occupation was saving whales entangled in fishing gear.

The experienced fishermen had taken part in over a dozen rescues, but the one in the Gulf of St. Lawrence took his life on July 10.

So far, around 10 whales have died in the area, some of them due to fishing gear entanglement.

As previously stated, by mid-July, these endangered whales (there are only an estimated 500 remaining), left their usual feeding grounds at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy where the lobster fishery was closed and moved to the heavily fished Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The whales are filter feeders, filling sack-like baleen with water, spitting the water out and eating what stays behind — mainly plankton.

No food and the whales go fishing for other hot spots, which turned out to be a death trap for some of them.

Global warming has caused the giants to move from their natural feeding grounds in the Grand Manan Basin to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

What other explanation could there be?

One fishermen speculated that the postlarvae simply swam a bit deeper than usual, making them difficult to be detected.

This isn’t very plausible, but recent declines in zooplankton that lobster larvae consume could be a problem.

So, what does all this mean to the commercial lobster fishery in the Maritimes, especially Nova Scotia?

If this trend continues for the next three years, we could have a major meltdown in this the most important fishery in Nova Scotia and the State of Maine.

It could take a decade to right itself and that would depend on postlarvae beginning to recover in three years.

Considering the longevity of the global warming fiasco, this fact might be hard to swallow and the effect will be devastating to coastal economies from Rhode Island to Nova Scotia.

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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