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Monday, February 28, 2011

Celtic Explorer Newfoundland & Labrador Fishery Survey: DAY 29

Date 27/02/2011 Time: 23:00 hrs (UTC)

Position:   49 02.89 N   53 01.43 W   Wind speed 19 knots

Sunrise over Bonavista (Photo: Wade Hiscosk)

We spent most of today in the sheltered waters of Clode Sound, Bonavista Bay, adjacent to Terra Nova National Park, which has both marine and terrestrial components. The Sound was full of herring and capelin, and as a 60 knot storm was raging outside the Bay, we spent the time doing a stationary acoustic experiment, using the Dynamic Positioning system of the Celtic Explorer to hold us in place. The vessel moved within a 50m circle over a period of almost 24h; not bad considering she is 65m in length.

The herring were scattered throughout the water column during hours of darkness, but at the first hint of light they descended quickly to form dense schools near bottom. It will be interesting to test the effects of these movements on the acoustic properties of these fish and how that may influence abundance estimates.

Officer of Watch Richard O’Regan after setting the Dynamic Positioning controls on the Bridge of the Celtic Explorer over dense schools of herring (photo: Kate Barley)

We are close to land here, and most of it is within the Terra Nova National Park. This area was a largely uninhabited region of coastal Newfoundland away from the main cod fishing grounds, and contains a high concentration of Moose and Black Bears. The Woodland Caribou is the native large ungulate of Newfoundland, and figures large in many of the cultural aspects of Newfoundland history and culture. Woodland caribou numbers have declined recently from perhaps 80,000 to 30,000 animals, largely as a result of predation from invading coyotes and black bears.

Newfoundland postage in the 1930s before Confederation with Canada (Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1949). The caribou was and remains the iconic large ungulate of Newfoundland. Note that another stamp featured, of course, the codfish. (public domain image)

The Moose is much larger than the caribou and was introduced to Newfoundland about 100 years ago, and only a few were brought over from the mainland, but from those few animals today their progeny number over 100,000. They are hunted for food and sport by Newfoundland residents and in addition support an important tourism industry.

The Newfoundland bull Moose (Alces alces)
looking regal in autumn (public domain photo)

The crew seemed a bit nervous about the bears when told they are good swimmers – we did not mention that they hibernate in winter and are now fast asleep.

A Black Bear (|Ursus americanus). They are generally not dangerous unless fed by humans (no worries at the moment although Pat’s chicken curry might tempt them) (public domain photo)

But back to the fisheries. Some concentrations of capelin were found deep in the bay. Capelin are a small pelagic fish which feed most everything in the NW Atlantic. Seabirds, whales, seals and most large fishes depend on capelin as a rich source of nutrition. Capelin are rich in fat and protein and smell a bit like cucumbers. The migration patterns of cod have evolved largely to intercept capelin. Capelin are easily the most important fish in these marine ecosystems.

Capelin (photo: Laura Wheeland)

By mid afternoon we were on our way back to the main cod grounds offshore, as the weather forecast bodes well for the next few days.

As we left historic Bonavista Bay, we were treated with a glorious sunset. A welcome change to the previous night spent running with the wind from the approaching storm. This picture was taken standing out on deck with freezing fingers in -6 degrees.

The Celtic Explorer glows in the sunset over Bonavista Bay (photo: Kate Barley)

Until next time…

Blog by Kate Barley with local colour by Dr. George Rose.


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