WDC Senior Intern Kate McPherson has spent two summers with WDC cataloguing humpback whales. As a seasoned photo-ID researcher, we asked her to blog about the 8,000th whale added to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. Her thoughts are below.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s colleagues at Allied Whale have recently entered the 8,000th individual to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog which they curate. This catalog allows researchers to identify individual humpback whales by the unique markings on their flukes, and has been used in population studies since the 1970s. As a contributor to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog, WDC is very excited to share this news and recognize the significant effort it has taken to expand the catalog thus far.
The news of an 8,000th identified North Atlantic humpback whale is astounding in more ways than one. This individual whale was first seen in the tropical waters of the French West Indies in the Caribbean, and was re-sighted three years later off the coast of Norway, some 5,000 miles/8,000 km away! Not only is this an extensive migration, but it’s a journey through obstacles both seen and unseen that claim the lives of whales and dolphins each year. For example, shipping lanes between Europe and North America create a virtual game of Frogger for humpback whales migrating from their summer feeding grounds in the North Atlantic and their winter breeding grounds in the Caribbean. In addition to posing a high risk of collisions with the whales, these vessels also create an enormous amount of underwater noise which interrupts crucial behaviors such as feeding and communication, and can even lead to injury or death. Migrating humpback whales must also navigate their way through expanses of fishing gear, the leading cause of death for whales and dolphins, killing more than 300,000 each year. As if that weren’t enough, large baleen whales have been hunted in the Caribbean and continue to be hunted today by countries like Iceland and Norway.
With all the threats these humpbacks face, it’s amazing that individuals continue to survive their migrations year after year, and even more amazing that researchers have been privileged enough to observe and document 8,000 individuals for the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog. This invaluable resource will continue to allow organizations like Allied Whale and Whale and Dolphin Conservation to study and learn more about these incredible whales, and work to advocate for a future where they are free from harm. We look forward to seeing the day when the 9,000th or even 10,000th individual is added to this database!
Shipping lanes, with the waters of the Caribbean and Norway highlighted.