Whale researcher lands book deal- by Amanda Dale, Bermuda Sun Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 00:00

A whale’s tale: Filmmaker Andrew Stevenson has landed a book deal charting his humpback whale research project.

From sea monster ­folklore to the haunting songs of the humpback, whales have long fascinated mankind.

Even in our advanced technological age, the giant of the ocean still eludes us, covering thousands of miles on its migratory ­journeys.

The efforts of one man in Bermuda however, is now shedding light on the ­legendary leviathon of the deep.

Andrew Stevenson began a filmmaking project into humpback whales four years ago and the subsequent research has now caught the attention of ­scientists worldwide.

It has also caught the imagination of publishers and Mr. Stevenson is to ­publish a book on Bermuda's migratory whales next year."

The illustrated 30,000 word book, to be published by Constable & Robinson in September, features 300 photographs of Bermuda's humpbacks.

It was his images of the whale flukes that has ­offered scientists an insight into their oceanic ­behaviour.

In the past four years, Mr. Stevenson has collected some 400 fluke IDs.

Under each Humpback's tail or fluke is its ‘fingerprint' - an individual set of markings.

Working with the Allied Whale group at the College of the Atlantic, in Bar ­Harbor, Maine, Mr. Stevenson and researchers have succeeded in identifying Humpbacks making repeat journeys to Bermuda.

Insight

The sightings are ­giving scientists a valuable insight into the whales' migratory lifestyle.

Mr. Stevenson said: "What we're seeing is whales coming back year after year, in the same week.

"The fluke photos are helping us piece together the puzzle of what these ­animals are doing in the mid-Atlantic.

"What we know is that they're not just swimming by, but coming with other whales and spending up to six days here."

"He said one whale - named Harry Potter due to its ‘lightning flash' on its fluke - has returned four times, and others two to three years in a row.

Mr. Stevenson said: "A third of North Atlantic humpbacks have bite marks on them from Orcas (killer whales), and this usually happens when they are calves.

"So they seem to be meeting up on the seamounts of Bermuda to move up north to their feeding grounds in convoys for protection.

"Their behaviour ­indicates they are aggregating around here. Sometimes we have seen 14 to 16 of them in one group."

Mr. Stevenson's three-year film project resulted in the award-winning documentary Where the Whales Sing. He was voted Best Emerging Underwater Filmmaker at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in ­California this year.

After it ended however he continued his research, ­collecting as many whale flukes as he could - a ­project he aims to continue until 2012.

He has also written Whale Song: Journeys into the Secret Lives of the North Atlantic humpbacks.

Mr. Stevenson is already an established author and the U.K. publishers asked him to write ‘Whale Song' after previously producing his ‘Annapurna Circuit: Himalayan Journey' and ‘A Nepalese Journey: On Foot Around the Annapurnas'.

Mr. Stevenson said: "They did not want a scientific book but a narrative.

"Bermuda is on a unique platform to provide a window into the mid-ocean social behaviour of the Humpback whale.

"Between Hawaii and Alaska in the Pacific there's nothing, so we have no idea what's happening on their migration.

"But we have two seamounts offshore, so we can get a real glimpse into their migratory behaviour."

Mr. Stevenson has sent the manuscript of his book to two dozen scientists around the world.

"Although it is non-scientific, it is valuable data and it's getting scientific peer review," he said.

"It's been great feedback and I've taken it all on board. They are all very interested in it."

‘Whale Song' has been dedicated to the late Deborah Butterfield, mother of philanthropist and businessman Jim Butterfield.

The Butterfield family sponsored the Humpback Whale Film and Research Project and Mr. Butterfield is also sponsoring Mr. Stevenson as he completes his book.

The businessman, an owner of Butterfield & Vallis, said: "When you hear about Japan and Norway butchering these creatures, it is like we are shooting the last few elephants on the planet.

"We can't just stand by, we need to create more awareness.

"Andrew has done an incredible job to go out in such harsh conditions and put all this together. I so admire his tenacity."

‘Whale Song' will be published in September.

Mr. Stevenson is also appealing for sponsors to assist him in his three-year research project.

Anyone with a photo of a whale fluke should also email him at: spout@

logic.bm. For more inforamtion about on Mr. Stevenson's work, go to: www.whalesbermuda.com

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