... Just as whales have been spotted Print E-mail
Saturday, 12 January 2008 00:00

... Just as whales have been spotted

By Amanda Dale, Royal Gazette, 12 Jan 2008

A Humpback whale breaches off South Shore in a picture taken last year by Camilla Stringer, a volunteer with Andrew Stevenson's whale project.

Several whales have been spotted breaching off the South Shore, raising hopes they are now inhabiting the Island's waters year-round.

Humpback whales were a common sight off Bermuda hundreds of years ago, and records from 1611 show they even kept the population awake at night with their haunting song.

For the past century, however, they have only been seen during their annual Spring migration, when they travel thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Caribbean to feed on the abundance of small fish and krill in the North Atlantic.

Unusually, during the past fortnight there have been more than five Humpback sightings by members of the public, prompting speculation a pod is feeding here over the winter months.

The sightings ahead of the February-May migration back up reports by local fishermen and experts, who believe the marine mammals may be returning to the Island.

Conservationist and author Andrew Stevenson, who is currently filming a documentary on Bermuda's migratory Humpback whales, said: "A whale was seen breaching repeatedly off Elbow Beach on December 30, and this is very interesting because it could mean there is a pod or more of whales remaining here throughout the winter.

"They are rarely seen around Bermuda on their downward migration in the Fall and so the fact that some have been seen here in the middle of winter is very interesting.

"It can't be whales still heading south, and yet it's too early for them to be heading north.

"These may be young male whales who realise the competition down in the breeding grounds is too great, so they are hanging around here hoping for the occasional upswelling of krill. Why go down there and starve when they can stay here?

"Historically the whales did stay here all-year-round, and this might be a sign that the whale population is getting healthier.

"Over the last few years I have collected samples of krill and fish eggs, so there's no doubt the whales do get some food here."

Mr. Stevenson said he himself witnessed two whales breaching off Devonshire Bay on Thursday. Last year he took a water sample off Sally Tucker's (near Somerset) using equipment from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.

It revealed krill, copepods and fish eggs, which all provide essential nutrients for Humpback whales.

"The net was teeming with life and I only had it in the water for less than a minute," said Mr. Stevenson. "I think there is probably enough food here for the whales to hang around in the winter, as well as opportunistically feeding on their way up north during the migration."

Dr. Ross Jones, Associate Scientist and head of the Marine Environmental Programme at BIOS however, said monthly water quality monitoring had not indicated any upsurge in food resources.

He said: "There is no evidence for long-term increases in nutrients in local waters. In terms of krill, there are species of Euphasid shrimps here similar to the krill that whales typically feed on, but certainly no evidence of changes in their abundance as such that a resident population could be sustained."

But Wendy Tucker, Director of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, said: "One of the reasons we think the whales may be staying here is because there's more food for them now.

"We're not sure how many there are, but fishermen are reporting seeing them almost year-round.

"It seems this has gradually developed over the past four or five years."

BUEI's whale watching tour guide Judy Klee said: "If there are more of them around then this is very exciting. It means more and more Bermudians and visitors can see them off our shores."

Dr. Dorte Horsfield, a marine biologist and research associate at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo called for more research in the Island's waters.

She said: "I think that due to the limited amount of research we don't know enough at this point in time to really determine the migration of these whales through our waters, but it is possible we are seeing a resurgence.

"These whales certainly like to hang around Bermuda, as they have done so for thousands of years."

Anyone who spots a whale off the Island's waters is asked to contact Mr. Stevenson on 77-SPOUT (777 7688) or email him at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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