Sunday 30th September 2011, Bermuda.
We had a great year, with some 205 individual whale fluke IDs identified this season.
Attached please find a summary of our work over the last year and a bit. This is way more information than you could possibly want but you can pick and choose what to use. We have just finished our sixth season of research. As you will remember, I started this research off accidentally, while making a film on the humpback whales. During the making of that film I started collecting the data that I realized was unique in providing an insight into the pelagic migratory social behaviour of humpback whales. The film 'Where the Whales Sing' was completed in March 2010 at which point I continued the research and had published 'Whale Song: Journeys into the Secret Lives of the North Atlantic humpbacks'.
This season was a strange, but very productive one. We had a fantastic start to the season with lots of fluke IDs early on. As we all know, we had incredible weather in March and this gave us a fantastic data set for March, a time when we rarely get out on the water due to inclement weather conditions at that time. We obtained over half of our 205 fluke IDs this year in those two weeks alone. Interestingly enough, and contrary to popular opinion, these whales weren't migrating early (due to global warming or whatever), at least not from our data. Of the 108 fluke IDs obtained in March, only five of these whales had been seen before in Bermuda, and they were all re-sightings from the previous five seasons, in March. After that great start, we had bad weather the first two weeks of April, prime time for collecting data on the whales. But we did manage to finish with a flourish. (Our total fluke IDs for the preceding years were: 2007-9; 2008-55; 2009-139; 2010-122; 2011-143; 2012-205. Many of these fluke IDs have been contributed by other photographers on other boats).
The whales seem to show a propensity to pass by our shores the same week each year. This adherence to a similar time frame was thrown completely off track by a whale we call Candle. If you have seen my film, Candle was the whale that was 'fighting' with Magical Whale over me. We have seen Candle two more years (despite the fact that he has only been photographed once before, in Labrador, in 1978). In 2010 we were out in rough seas and windy conditions and hadn't seen a whale all day and I had zero expectations of seeing a whale given the sea conditions, when a whale breached right in front of the boat. Despite the fact that we knew there was a whale right around us, with the high winds and waves we lost the whale until he breached right behind the boat, in our wake! Well, we found Candle on the 23rd of January this year, completely out of his time slot which has been the last week of April. Very interesting. Then on the 30th of April we had spent some hours looking for whales and hadn't seen a thing on a calm day when a whale breached right in front of the boat. It was Candle again. We kept track of him for a couple of hours until he joined another whale called Toro, a whale that was here on the same day as Candle and Magical Whale in 2007.
Progress Report 2012
Assisted by Judie Clee, Leah Crowe and Camilla Stringer, and thanks to boat captains Bob Steinhoff, Charlie Kempe,Michael Smith, Roland Lines, David Brown, Geoff Gardner, Tim Hasselbring, Michael Heslop and Michael Hayward
During the 2011 season over 25 days were spent on the water around Bermuda.
From end of December 2010 through to mid-May 2011 143 individual humpback whales were identified in Bermuda waters.
20 of these humpbacks had been identified in in the previous four seasons with remarkable consistency in the dates observed from year to year. These year-to-year re-sightings raise the possibility that the humpbacks maintain fidelity to their migratory routes and to a specific timetable.
A poster presentation on the 'Individual migration timing of humpback whales' in the North Atlantic, authored by Dr Peter Stevick, Allied Whale, Leah Crowe and myself was prepared for the recent 19th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Tampa Florida (Nov 27-Dec 2 2011). See attached PDF.
In addition to maintaining our own Bermuda catalogue of re-sightings from year to year, we include the length of time the same individual whales are observed in our waters. These 'layovers' extend from a couple of days to as long as 8 and 9 days.
We also match 'our' whales against the catalogue held by Allied Whale (some 7,500 individuals) and the catalogue held by the Provincetown Centre for Coastal Studies. We shared all of our information with both Allied Whale and the Centre for Coastal Studies. As a research associate of Allied Whale, we have the entire Allied Whale North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue here in Bermuda. This has bypassed the manpower bottleneck at Allied Whale and the time needed to match 'our' whales to the Allied Whale North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. Thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, including Judy Clee who has spent thousands of hours poring over our IDs and matching them up internally and with the NAHWC catalogue and Camilla Stringer who has spent hundreds of hours inputting information into our own iMatch Catalogue, we are now able to identify our fluke IDs against our own catalogue and the NAHWC catalogue within days of obtaining the data. So far we have matched approximately 187 whales out of 635, or roughly 30% of our fluke IDs to the NAHWC catalogue from 2007 to date. This begs the question of where the other 70% of 'our' whales go if they have not been photographed and identified before.
After a long season in 2012 (over 25 days on the water using eleven different boats), at the time of writing, we have obtained a total of 673+ individual fluke IDs in Bermuda in the last six seasons. So far, this year alone, we obtained 205 individual fluke IDs. To give this some context, the number of fluke IDs made here in Bermuda by residents or visiting scientists was a total 145 over the previous 40 years.
Twenty of the 205 whales we identified this year we had seen in previous years. With this increased database some interesting patterns are being revealed. It will take years of continued research to confirm these patterns and to fill the gaps in our data created by weather conditions and the inability to get out on the water.
We have had four interns this year, three from the USA and one from England. All interns were included in all of our ocean trips during their stay and assisted in the matching and organization of fluke IDs.
We have put our entire Bermuda catalogue on a Flickr website to share all of our information with fellow citizen scientists and marine scientists all over the world. For ease of matching we have split the Fluke IDs into five different types. flicker
We also include all our information and data on the website www.whalesbermuda.com
which has now surpassed 1,500,000 hits or views.
We have a whalesbermuda YouTube website with our videos of humpbacks on public display with almost 750,000 hits or views youtube
We continue to show the film 'Where the Whales Sing' locally (and on CITV where it has shown hundreds of times) and at different venues including not only the USA and Europe, but also the Dominican Republic (with Spanish sub-titles), South Korea (with Korean sub-titles), Ecuador (with Spanish sub-titles), Iran (with Iranian subtitles) New Zealand, and Australia. Air Canada has bought the rights to show 'Where the Whales Sing' on its in-flight programme for two months
'Whale Song: Journeys into the Secret Lives of the North Atlantic Humpback Whales', a large-format illustrated book with 300 photographs and 40,000 words was published in the UK and USA last November with a first print run of 10,000 copies.
In addition to the important fluke IDs, we have also recorded on HD video the underwater social behaviour of the humpbacks. Of particular note in 2011 is the discovery that the humpbacks are using sand holes in shallow water here in Bermuda to groom their bodies, probably ridding themselves of sea lice and dead skin. This behaviour has never been observed or filmed before and given the number of times we have witnessed this behaviour since this discovery it would appear that this is one reason they stop in Bermuda. youtube
Each year we continue to observe and document aggregating behaviour that may lead to known whales associating together on the mid-ocean seamounts before continuing northwards on their migration to their feeding grounds. These groups display coordinated breathing, remain together, but do not display aggressive breeding behaviour that similar large groups of whales exhibit in the feeding grounds in the Caribbean.
Dr Phil Clapham, Leader, Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program, National Marine Mammal Laboratory, has tagged three humpback whales this season. One of them journeyed just to the west of us, hung around a sea mount to our northwest, then continued to Nova Scotia. His track to date can be seen on the home page here
. Dr Clapham tells us that our mid-ocean research is unique and that there is nowhere else where this kind of data on the pelagic migratory of humpback whales is being obtained. What has become clear is that the Sargasso Sea and the mid-ocean seamounts are important, integral aspects of the humpbacks lives, and not simply transit corridors between feeding and breeding grounds.
This summer and fall I expect to co-author a number of papers/presentations based on our database with marine scientist colleagues in the US (Dr Jooke Robbins, Provincetown Centre for Coastal Studies and Dr Peter Stevick and others, Allied Whale) at the next Conference of the Society for Marine Mammology in Christchurch, New Zealand in late 2013.