The Gully Marine Protected Area | WWF-Canada
	© Whitehead Lab

The Gully

The Gully Marine Protected Area

Roughly 200 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia lies The Gully: the largest underwater canyon in eastern North America. Its steep sides plunge down more than 2.5 kilometres, creating exceptional habitat for all kinds of wildlife.

Northern bottlenose whales surfacing at sunset in The Sable Gully
© Sascha Hooker / WWF-Canada

Video created/compiled by J. Corke. Whale footage courtesy of The Whitehead Lab

Teeming with Life

What makes The Gully so rich in biodiversity? Strong currents bring up nutrients from the seabed, supporting millions of tiny plankton. That plankton, in turn, feeds seals, birds, dolphins and more. There’s also a wide range of habitats here, from the shallow, sandy banks of the continental shelf to the deep ocean floor. Ancient cold-water corals cling to the canyon slopes, while endangered bottlenose whales hunt for squid more than a kilometre below the waves.

A frequent visitor to the Gully, the Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), in flight over water, Canada
© Alan Burger / WWF-Canada

Atlantic Canada’s first marine protected area

Efforts to conserve this crucial habitat began in the late 1980s. It took many years, but thanks in part to WWF’s efforts, The Gully became Atlantic Canada’s first marine protected area (MPA) in May 2004. As a result, the area within the Gully’s boarders is now protected from oil and gas development, and fishing in its most vulnerable zones is prohibited.

Researchers observe a northern bottlenose whale in the Gully Marine Protected Area
© Hilary Moors-Murphy

The next challenge

One MPA alone isn’t enough to sustain the full range of habitats and species in the Northwest Atlantic region. That’s why WWF is working to protect special areas and representative samples of all habitat types through a network of MPAs and through integrated ocean use plans.

View the full infographic. ©DFO

Northern bottlenose whales

In The Gully, you’ll find a unique, endangered population of Northern bottlenose whales. With their bulbous foreheads and distinctive beaks, these inquisitive creatures are easy to spot. Unlike other bottlenose whale populations in the North Atlantic, this small sub-population stays in the Gully and nearby Shortland and Haldimand canyons year-round.

Bottlenose whales used to be hunted commercially. Today, the biggest threats to their survival are being hit by ships or getting entangled in fishing year. Because they use sound to navigate and communicate, they’re also affected by noise pollution from shipping, sonar and seismic testing.

A group of three Northern bottlenose whales resting at the surface in the Sable Gully, Nova Scotia, Canada
© Hal Whitehead / WWF-Canada

Cold-water corals

More than 30 different types of cold-water corals live on the slopes of The Gully — the greatest diversity in Atlantic Canada. Unlike their tropical cousins, cold-water corals don’t depend on sunlight, so they can be found more than two kilometres below the surface of the water. Ancient and fragile, they provide habitat for crabs, fish larvae, juvenile fish and more.

Redfish (Sebastes sp.) swims near Gorgonian coral (Gorgonacea) in the Atlantic Ocean
© Don GORDON / WWF-Canada

Where is The Gully

The Gully cuts into Nova Scotia’s eastern Scotian Shelf, off Sable Island.

Click on the image to enlarge

Facts & Figures

•The Gully is 65 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide.

•The Gully MPA protects more than 2,300 square kilometres of marine habitat.

•You’ll find 16 species of whales and dolphins here, including blue whales — the biggest animal on Earth.

•The Gully is between 150,000 and 450,000 years old, carved out by glacial ice and meltwater.

•Northern bottlenose whales weigh six to eight tonnes and grow six to nine metres long. They can stay underwater for up to 70 minutes at a time.

•Some of the cold-water corals growing on The Gully slopes are almost a thousand years old.