2014 04 29 End of season and our final score card 101 whales--81 new to Bermuda and 20 re-sightings Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

Summary of this year's sightings.

Humpback whales can be permanently identified by their unique black-and-white patterns on the ventral (lower) side of their fluke (tail). 101 individual whales were identified this year in Bermuda waters of which 81 were new whales to our catalogue and 20 were re-sightings. This compares to around 200 individual whales identified in each of the past two years, a decline that reflects the high winds we endured during the peak five-week period of the humpbacks' annual migration past Bermuda. Our Bermuda Humpback Whale Catalogue now holds over 900 individual whale fluke IDs identified over the past eight seasons, 2007-2014 in Bermuda. The previous tally of Bermuda fluke IDs was 145 individual whales identified over a 40-year period to 2006. This database will be a permanent record of whales passing through our waters for decades to come.


This year we had one 9-day layover again. #1300 was photographed in January over a nine-day period with photographs contributed by Andrew Stevenson and Claire Grenville. This whale was identified by one of our collaborating ‘citizen scientists', Roger Etcheberry in St Pierre-et-Miquelon as a whale frequenting the waters around Newfoundland.


#0039, aka ‘Harry Potter' was photographed for the sixth time in eight years with photos from Andrew Stevenson, Lynn Thorne, Lindsay Smith. Harry Potter (named for its lightning scar on its identifying fluke pattern) was first identified in Dominican Republic 29 years ago in 1985.


#0047, aka ‘Amberfish' photographed six out of the last eight years with additional identifying photographs contributed by Kelly Winfield, Antonia Ford-Roberts, Amber Farrow, Richard Lee, Henri Roth, Chris Burville, Andrew Dobson, Camilla Stringer, Lynn Thorn, Michael Smith and Andrew Stevenson. First photographed 35 years ago in 1979 in Newfoundland and Dominican Republic. #0047 Amberfish was the last whale we photographed last year and may well be the last to be identified this year.


A female, Victim, named because of its torn and scarred fluke, was identified with its new calf this year by Andrew Stevenson down on the Silver Bank, the North Atlantic humpbacks' breeding/calving grounds between Turks and Caicos and Dominican Republic. Dr Jooke Robbins of the Provincetown Centre for Coastal Studies has confirmed that Victim and her calf have already been identified on Stellwagen Bank, proof that both whales made the arduous migration from the West Indies to their northern feeding grounds outside Boston. This kind of real-time collaboration is unlocking the secrets of the humpbacks, animals, despite their size, that marine scientists know very little about with respect to their pelagic (mid-ocean) lives. Bermuda provides a unique window into the mid-ocean, mid-migration lives of the humpbacks and the rapidly expanding Bermuda database is an invaluable piece of the puzzle as we discover what they do after they leave their breeding grounds and before they get to their northern feeding grounds. Whales identified here in Bermuda have been matched to sightings in the West Indies and in their feeding grounds on the USA eastern seaboard from the Carolinas up the Gulf of Maine, Newfoundland and as far north as Labrador, Greenland and Iceland.


Although we only obtained half the fluke IDs we had hoped to photograph this season, the upside was the remarkable underwater footage and photographs we were privileged to make after three prolonged encounters with 'dancing' whales in crystal clear waters. These videos and photographs help us to determine the gender of the whales,what class of whale (ie calf, yearling, juvenile, adult), any orca or entanglement scars not visible from the surface as well as social behavior patterns which includes courtship, exfoliation in sandholes (Bermuda sandholes are ideal!) and other activities.

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