Variation in the prey field of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) in Roseway Basin
‘Critical Habitat’ is the habitat required to close the life history of an endangered species and is a fundamental requirement for species recovery for two reasons; the role of habitat in population limitation and viability must be determined, and the habitat must be protected. The North Atlantic right whale is an endangered species that annually migrates to the Grand Manan Basin and Roseway Basin Critical Habitats to feed on diapausing calanoid copepods that are typically aggregated at depths of 100 to 150 m. In this thesis I quantify spatial and temporal variation in the copepod prey field and occupancy of right whales in Roseway Basin, and use this information to identify the location and extent of right whale Critical Habitat. To accomplish this, I measured copepod abundance and energy density (kJ m-3) using optical, acoustic and net collection methods during 2007 to 2009. Oceanographic processes that affect variation in the copepod prey field include slope water intrusions, water mass density, gyre-like circulation and frontal features. Aggregations of diapausing copepods are maintained on the southern slope of Roseway Basin by cross-isobath tidal advection, and are advected along-isobath by the residual flow. Tidal advection at a front, coupled with along-isobath advection and shear in the horizontal currents serve to accumulate copepods along the slope where aggregations are maintained for at least 7 days. The abundance, stage-structure, species composition and aggregation locations of copepods, as well as the hydrography and circulation, were variable among the three years of the study. A 20 year time series of right whales, copepods and hydrography revealed that interannual whale occupancy in the Critical Habitats is variable and can be explained by prey field variation only in Roseway Basin. Factors other than the local prey field affect the number of whales that occupy Grand Manan Basin. Variation in the right whale prey field could not be explained by temperature and phytoplankton-dependent growth in the Scotia - Fundy -Gulf of Maine region. The results of this thesis assisted in establishing the Roseway Basin right whale Critical Habitat in 2008, and the cross-disciplinary nature of the study also provides new insights into the relationships between biology and physics in Scotian Shelf - Gulf of Maine basins.