Humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine, USA

The Gulf of Maine is a prime feeding ground for endangered humpback whales, yet many are killed or injured by vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear each year.

They are disturbed by ocean noise on a daily basis. Even though these impacts are recognized by policy makers as active risks, there is a need for scientific data to enact appropriate measures to protect this population. WDC curates a catalogue of more than 1,000 individually identified humpback whales from the southern Gulf of Maine and integrates historic data with new information through our research projects.
The Gulf of Maine is the longest-running studied population of humpbacks in the world and WDC contributes our data to both the Gulf of Maine and North Atlantic humpback whale catalogs. Through non-invasive photo ID research, we know that these whales migrate to their breeding grounds in the West Indies, facing multiple threats along the way. Research on this population indicates there is a 70 percent site-fidelity rate for calves meaning they return to the Gulf of Maine feeding area where their mother’s first brought them.   We are also learning more about areas off the mid-Atlantic east coast where humpbacks have been documented feeding throughout the year, some perhaps staying to eat rather than migrating to the Caribbean.  In an effort to learn more about these areas and the potential threats the whales face there, we are working with research partners and responsible whale watch companies in the Mid-Atlantic to collect data.
Our research on small vessel impacts indicates one out of 10 humpbacks in the southern Gulf of Maine, will be struck by a vessel.  Our data on marine debris around whales has been presented at International conferences.  With more than 250,000 images and 20 years of sightings data, WDC will continue to use our data to inform federal and state agencies, provide public comments on proposed projects that have the potential to harm whales and their habitat and collaborate with other research organisations to better protect these species.