Please select your home edition
Edition
Barz Optics - Melanin Lenses

Whale Tails- How Caribbean sailors can help whale research

by Nathalie Ward on 18 Jan 2014
This is ’Salt’ - her ’fingerprint’ tail long tracked by researchers in the Caribbean SW
Sailors for the Sea, a David Rockefeller project, whose mission it is to 'educate and engage the boating community in the worldwide protection of the oceans', occasionally publishes essays about the state of our oceans, the dangers, the beauty and the current issues. Here is their latest:

An International Citizen Science Project for Boaters:


The sea is slate-colored, smooth as asphalt. The wind isn’t howling, but speaking in a firm voice—a day like so many in the blue latitudes, perfect and unending. I’m on deck, barely awake—as I slowly take in the sense that my horizon is suddenly changing shape.

A humpback whale bursts through the surface like a locomotive from a tunnel. Some 100 yards from the boat, plumes of mist erupt from the sea, but it’s the harshness of its breathing—those explosive chuffs—that startles me most.
— N. Ward

Anyone who sees a humpback is impressed by its enormity and grace. The size of a city bus, it rises from the sea firing vaporous plumes from its blowholes, and then slowly rolls into the depths, exposing a tiny dorsal fin on top of a small hump. A parting view may be a pair of 15-feet wide tail flukes raised over the water like the outstretched wings of a massive seabird.



Celebrated by Herman Melville as the most 'gamesome' of the great whales, theirs is a leisure society that predates ours by some 50 million years. Besides looking for food and feeding in northern latitudes, humpbacks spend their time in the winter months in the warm, tropical seas of the Caribbean—swimming, cavorting, conversing, wooing the opposite sex and giving birth and nursing their young.

A Sanctuary Concern—Protection Beyond Borders :
Within the animal kingdom, the humpback whale makes one of the longest migrations of any animal. They are international citizens—acknowledging no sovereignty but their own—traveling through international waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea without a passport.

NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, within the Gulf of Maine, protects a shared population of almost 1,000 humpback whales that return from their tropical breeding grounds with new calves each spring. This population shows a slowed recovery rate as human impacts such as entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes contribute to mortality throughout their migratory path.

In 2007, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary created the Sister Sanctuary Program to develop strategic, science-based 'sister sanctuary relationships'—with other marine mammal sanctuaries in Bermuda, the Dominican Republic and French and Dutch Antilles—to insure the protection of humpback whales outside of U.S. borders, with specific focus on international breeding and mating grounds in the Caribbean and along migration corridors.

What A Tail Can Tell — Photo-Identification:
Knowing the identity of individual whales can be of critical importance to researchers. Photo-identification is a technique that enables scientists to identify an individual whale anywhere it may travel throughout its life by comparing black and white pigmentation patterns on the underside (or ventral portion) of the flukes, the two wings of the tail. These marking include both natural pigmentation and scars.



Using photo-identification techniques to help monitor the recovery of this endangered species, CARIB Tails is enlisting boaters as citizen scientists to help track the movements of humpback whales between their North Atlantic feeding grounds and their breeding grounds in the Wider Caribbean Region. The project is an international research collaboration between NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme’s Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife’s Programme and our conservation partners.

Since the early 1970s, humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary and elsewhere in the Gulf of Maine have been catalogued, not only with formal identification numbers, but also with names. By cataloguing individual humpback whales, scientists can monitor individual animals and gather valuable information about population sizes and migration patterns.

The Fluke Catalogue — The How and Why:
When new photographs of humpback tail flukes are received, they are matched against the photographs in the existing North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue, which has been maintained since 1976 by Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine USA. Information about each whale sighting (such as date, time, location) is kept in a database, or Catalogue. Using these kinds of data, it has been possible to learn that humpbacks mature no earlier than four years of age, may have calves every two years, travel to the Caribbean in winter to mate and give birth, and appear to return to the same northern feeding area each summer.

The Catalogue contains fluke photographs of more than 7,000 individual humpback whales. It is the result of collaboration between scientists, naturalists, citizen scientists and tourists who have contributed photographs of humpbacks from regions including North America, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Caribbean. Information gained from the Catalogue helps advance understanding of marine mammal conservation and habitat protection, raise public awareness, and motivate marine mammal conservation action and stewardship.

P.S. 'Salt', also known as the 'Grand Dame' of the Sister Sanctuary Program, has been seen on Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary every summer except one since 1976. She is also the first Gulf of Maine humpback whale to have been seen by researchers on Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic. Her sighting confirmed the north-south migration route of humpback whales.

WANTED: Your help tracking humpback whale migration with your photographs of humpback flukes:

If you get see a humpback whale while cruising in the Caribbean, you will never forget it. If you take a good photo of its flukes, you can contribute to the conservation of this spectacular animal. For more information about how you can participate visit: www.caribtails.org.

Sail Exchange 660x82 New SailsRS Sailing 660x82Musto AUS 2017 660x82 1

Related Articles

AMSA marine notice – Importance of using official nautical charts
This notice draws attention to the importance of using official nautical charts to comply with flag State requirements. Official charts are those issued by or on the authority of a government, authorised hydrographic office or other relevant government institution.
Posted on 24 May
Line 7 Marine presents Squadron II jacket in time for SCIBS
The Squadron II Jacket is now on shelves and has been designed to keep the wearer on the water for longer. The Squadron II Jacket is now on shelves and has been designed specifically to keep the wearer on the water for longer. It’s crafted from 100% waterproof fabric, with a high level of breathability for extra comfort and pulls together a host of extra features.
Posted on 23 May
Old4New Van notches up 100,000km and 20,000 lifejackets
Minister for Roads Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey today announced the Old4New life jacket programme Minister for Roads Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey today announced the Old4New life jacket programme had exchanged more than 20,000 old lifejackets for new ones, spreading the ‘wear a lifejacket’ message.
Posted on 23 May
Nineteenth blog from on board Perie Banou II - Panama Canal Transit
Still at Shelter Bay Marina Colon. Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. But not for long. Still at Shelter Bay Marina Colon. Atlantic end of the Panama Canal. But not for long. Shelter Bay is the natural meeting place of lots cruising yachts. Their tall masts and rows and rows of furling headsails. Most American and European. Friendly bunch.
Posted on 17 May
Zip up, step out – Top technical jackets
Zip up, step out – Top technical jackets Zip up, step out – Top technical jackets
Posted on 11 May
Eighteenth blog from on board Perie Banou II - Colon, Panama
Perie Banou is tied to the relatively new Shelter Bay Marina. Colon. Good Marina. With services, some modest. Colon remains, as with previous years, a dangerous city. But it is much cleaner and getting better. Perie Banou II is tied to the relatively new Shelter Bay Marina. Colon. Good Marina. With services, some modest. Balboa is the port for Panama City on the Pacific Ocean. The other end of the Canal. If one looked at a map or chart of all of the Americas and one wanted to cross from the Atlantic to th
Posted on 10 May
Seventeenth blog from on board Perie Banou II - Panama
I am back on the high seas. Left Nanny Cay Marina using engine, motored to Norman Bight, Norman Island, BVI. I am back on the high seas. Left Nanny Cay Marina using engine, motored to Norman Bight, Norman Island, British Virgin Islands. In quiet weather, sailing, motor sailing, or motor boating I can clip the tiller on (quick easy). Then clip the Simrad electronic tiller pilot. Then I steer electronically.
Posted on 4 May
Servicing winches for a longer, more efficient life
A question we get asked often is all about winch servicing and how often should this be done and how hard is it. A question we get asked often is all about winch servicing and how often should this be done and how hard is it. We thought we might try and answer the most common questions and put people’s minds at ease as to how it's done. How often should you service your winches?
Posted on 3 May
ANMM welcomes first European artefact to appear on Australian soil
ANMM is excited to welcome the first European artefact to appear on Australian soil, the Dirk Hartog Plate Just over four hundred years ago Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog (1580–1621) sailed into history when, on 25 October 1616, he made the first documented European landing on the west coast of Australia. And this week the Australian National Maritime Museum is excited to welcome the first European artefact to appear on Australian soil, the Dirk Hartog Plate, to Sydney on special loan
Posted on 3 May
Debbie says the 8thP with Insurance is Patience (Pt.III)
We’re back to keep exploring the nature of TC Debbie and how she came to tell us about the eighth P of insurance We’re back to keep exploring the nature of TC Debbie and how she came to tell us about the eighth P of insurance. We’ve looked at what it was like to come into a disaster zone, seen the evidence of those that did the right thing, and how the area is already on the road to recovery. Now we’ll see why patience is the key in the aftermath of her fury.
Posted on 30 Apr