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Marine Mammals


Dr. Donald McAlpine, Research Curator of Zoology, New Brunswick Museum

The New Brunswick Museum has one of the largest marine mammals collections in the country, you can see some of it scattered here, behind me and above me. This is a collection that’s used for research purposes, it supports gallery exhibits as well. There are a number of articulated skeletons, these are skeletons that have been put together, that are on public display. In fact one of these large skeletons has become a centrepiece for the museum. It’s a Right Whale skeleton.

So New Brunswick is home to a wide variety of marine mammals. There are probably some twenty or more species of whales that occur in New Brunswick waters, and at least probably four of five species of seals, two of which are particularly common. And so we have a wide variety of species here and that is reflected in the size of the collection we house at the New Brunswick Museum.

Our marine mammal record extends back into the last ice age.

In fact we’re still live in an ice age today. Geologists would say that we are in an interglacial, which is a period between major glaciations. If we look at the fossil record of marine mammals in New Brunswick for the past 13,000 years we can see evidence of climate change since the last glacial period.

Many marine mammals can tolerate a wide climate range. Whale fossils are rare here, but we have records of Minke and Humback whales that are perhaps 9,000 years old, species that can still be seen off the New Brunswick coast. There is also one fossil record of a narwhal from Jacquet River in northern New Brunswick, it’s probably 11,000 years old. Today narwhals are found only in Arctic waters.

Walrus as well must have been common around New Brunswick in the past. Fossils have been found from Passamaquoddy Bay to the Bay of Chaleur. The oldest died almost 13,000 years ago and 9,000 year-old specimens have been dredged from the bottom of the Bay of Fundy.