The Long Eddy, situated on the northern tip of Grand Manan Island, is a beautiful and stimulating place, full of animals and energy. In a short span of minutes the ocean can change from glassy flat to boiling with upwellings and chop. A calm scene with a lone slowly-rolling porpoise changes into a cacophony of life – from krill to fin whales – in mere minutes. The predictable nature of the system, driven by unchanging physics, has long led people to this place for sustenance, scenery and science.
Let’s start with sustenance; it usually comes first. Indigenous peoples in the Bay of Fundy knew a lot about the Long Eddy and how it worked – it provided predictable access to an important resource – porpoises. In the late 1800s, porpoises were extremely valuable in the new currency-based economy faced by the Passamaquoddy Indians living on and near Grand Manan. Their meat was consumed and traded, but they were hunted mainly because the little animals were so rich in valuable oil. This oil was useful for light and lubrication, and mainland Passmaquoddy tribe members would canoe across to Grand Manan from the Campobello Island region to hunt porpoises in the Long Eddy and render them for oil on Indian Beach, a rocky beach on the northwest side of the island. These hunts were executed from canoes with spears and primitive rifles, and C.C. Ward published an excellent article in the October 1880 issue of Scribner’s Monthly that describes the process. The image at left illustrates the hunt being conducted in the Long Eddy, and those familiar with the island will recognize the Bishop headland in the background, with Fish Head rising out of the fog in the backdrop.
[su_nt_quote name=”C. C. Ward, 1880″]Where are we going now, Sebatis?” “Goin’ away long eddy, off northern head.” “Is that a good place for porpoises?” “Sartin; always on rips very good place; you see, plenty mackerals, herrin’s, and all kinds fishes in eddies and rips; very good feedin’-ground for porpusis, you see.” The eddies or rips alluded to by Sebatis were caused by the obstruction offered by projecting headlands to the ebb and flow of the tide…[/su_nt_quote]
The Passamaquoddy knew how the Long Eddy worked, perhaps best illustrated by this quote from the Ward 1880 paper, relating a discussion between Sebatis, a Passamaquoddy tribe member and the author:
“Where are we going now, Sebatis? ”
Goin’ away long eddy, off northern head.”
“Is that a good place for porpoises?”
“Sartin; always on rips very good place; you see, plenty mackerals, herrin’s, and all kinds fishes in eddies and rips; very good feedin’-ground for porpusis, you see.”
The eddies or rips alluded to by Sebatis were caused by the obstruction offered by projecting headlands to the ebb and flow of the tide…
Let’s move on to scenery. Whale watching is now a lucrative world-wide industry that champions the non-consumptive use of cetaceans. The industry focuses on the aesthetic value of whales, channeling John Muir’s original visions of the value of nature. Whale-watching is an important industry on Grand Manan and in other coastal communities in the lower Bay of Fundy, with several operators taking people offshore to see right whales, humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, ubiquitous harbor porpoises and other big, beautiful ocean creatures. Several operators frequent the Long Eddy, some from Grand Manan and others from communities in Passamaquoddy Bay. Much like the original Passamaquoddy peoples crossing from the mainland to Grand Manan to hunt porpoises, mainland whale-watchers speed across the Grand Manan Channel in catamarans and zodiacs to watch porpoises, minke whales and fin whales dive and lunge amidst the aggregations of herring and krill, as shearwaters and other seabirds look on. Speaking from experience, it doesn’t get old. The magnitude of life in the Long Eddy is incredible, and aesthetically speaking, there are very few places on earth that can match it.
How about science? The Long Eddy is controlled by tides, constrained by eternal physics. As a marine scientist and field biologist who studies marine mammals, a place like the Long Eddy is extremely compelling. The system sets up and dissipates twice a day, everyday – a predictable system so prominent that you can see it from space. Can you think of many places where you are guaranteed to see 200 harbor porpoises, 5 minke whales and 2 fin whales all within a 5 km square box twice a day? In the late summer and fall, this is routine for the Long Eddy. Because it is predictable, and a short ride from the wharf, the Long Eddy is ideal for studies addressing questions of ecosystem organization and progression at fine scales, from tides to top predators. By combining visual observations with advanced telemetry and prey mapping, we can see how tidal energy helps entire food webs assemble and dissipate, and elucidate how predators and prey act and react amidst the tidal energies in the Long Eddy. We know only the basics of how the Long Eddy works, and there is much more to learn.
It’s been years since I’ve been fortunate enough to pass by the time on a flood tide in the Long Eddy, and it feels great to be back. I don’t need it for sustenance, but the scenery and science are a fine tonic.