2016-03-24 60+ fluke IDs already this season with some interesting re-sightings Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   
Sunday, 20 March 2016 20:06

Despite long periods of bad weather, we've completed 18 trips on the ocean already this season and have some 60+ fluke IDs with the assistance of a couple of dedicated photographers on the whale watching boats.

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The photograph on the left is #0006 a whale I identified in my first year doing this whale research, a decade ago. The photograph on the right is an underwater image I took in 2011. We had lost two whales in 45 feet of water as often happens. I got out of the boat and started swimming around and found the two whales having a 'spa', rolling around in a sand hole exfoliating, getting rid of dead skin and sea lice. The video footage is unique showing two humpbacks demonstrating this behavior. Last week I photographed the whale again, below and Judie Clee immediately made the watch to our 'scratching whale'. But what makes this even more special is the fact that this whale is one of the first whales ever ID'ed, in 1977 a year after marine biologists starting photographing humpbacks to ID them!

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Another interesting one is 'Fireworks'.

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We first saw Fireworks in 2009 on the 12th of March, above left. We photographed it again in 2015 on the 11th of March, above right. And this year we identified it on the 10th of March, below. Fireworks is also interesting for me because she swam by me when I was in the water filming on the Silver Bank, the North Atlantic humpbacks' breeding grounds. As her tail went by I saw the very distinctive fireworks pattern and photographs from the underwater video later confirmed that it was indeed 'our' whale.

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This is yet another example of our whales showing up within days of sightings in previous years. Obviously the whales follow our Gregorian Calendar. Where to they keep it? Why doesn't it get waterlogged? How did they learn to read? Seriously, our Gregorian Calendar developed over time to keep in phase with sun. The Gregorian Calendar is in fact a solar calendar. It seems these whales are able to somehow determine pretty exactly what day of the solar calendar it is when they begin their migration north so that they hit Bermuda at the same time each year. There are major aberations in this dataset but that can also be explained by the individual whale's circumstance. A newly pregnant whale will leave the breeding grounds to head north earlier than the others so that she can begin layering on the blubber she will need in a year to nurse her calf. So if the whales generally speaking are showing up on the mid-ocean seamounts at the same time during their migration north it begs the question, why? It will take a lot more data collecting before we can nail down what is happening, but Bermuda more than anywhere else holds the key to understanding the complexities of the humpbacks and the depth of their social responsibility to one another.

 
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