15th July 2008 - Another presentation on the progress of the HWF&RP at BZS/Aquarium @ 7.30 Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

I will be giving another presentation of the progress of the Humpback Whale Film and Research Project at 7.30 pm on July 15th at the Aquarium. This presentation will include "Sleeping with Whales" the ten-minute short of a two-hour close encounter underwater of a full grown adult humpback whale. This short was shown at the recent Bermuda International Film Festival. Another ten-minute short of above-water footage taken during the underwater filming of 'Magical Whale' will be shown as well as three underwater sequences of a mother and calf at 7-14 days old, 3 months old and 15 months old. The 15-month old calf is about 30 feet long and probably weighs more than its mother and shows clearly that calves are not abandoned at a year old. Also to be included in the presentation will be short clips of a pod of ten whales, a group of six whales blowing threatening bubbles and photographs that show conclusively that the humpbacks are staying in Bermuda waters for as long as a week and are feeding here opportunistically.

The major discussion point at this presentation will be the possibility that whales are using these ocean seamounts such as Bermuda to assemble into their family pods before returning to their habitual feeding grounds up north. During their breeding/mating months down in the Caribbean over the winter the whales mix with other whales and travel over some distances. When they feed up north they maintain site fidelity, meaning they return to the same bays annually with very little variation. Given the fact that 25-33% of humpbacks bear orca bite marks on their flukes, the question is open as to whether the humpbacks travel in large protective pods while running the gauntlet of orcas further north. Based on my observations I surmise that the humpbacks form into larger pods while in Bermuda, and probably on other seamounts to our north and east and opportunistically feed on these seamounts during this assembly period. I also question whether the whale song heard in Bermuda has more to do with pods assembling into their family groups than mating behaviour. There is also the possibility that females too old or young to breed over-winter on these seamounts rather than join in the mating rituals further south.

Achievements to date: June 2008, half way through the project:
  • Over 500 hours on the water observing whales
  • Over two hours of quality underwater high-definition video footage of humpback whales
  • Over five hours of quality above water footage of humpback whales
  • Although not included in the original budget or project description, establishment of a comprehensive website www.whalesbermuda.com so that students and teachers can access a Bermuda-specific website on the humpback whales
  • This website is an educational tool that teachers and students can use to prepare prior to personal visits by Andrew Stevenson or BAMZ/BZS BUEI educators
  • www.whalesbermuda.com is updated almost daily, has a ‘whale diary’, video, photographs, Frequently Asked Questions, and more information than you could possibly want on humpback whales!
  • www.whalesbermuda.com is a rapidly growing educational resource that is already available and more user friendly than a single static documentary film
  • 8,000 hits on this website already since its establishment in the spring of 2008
  • 14 video clips of humpback whales in Bermuda on you tube with 30,000 hits
  • Numerous schools, children’s organizations and clubs have already had the benefit of Andrew’s personal talks including over a thousand students
  • BUEI and BZS/BAMZ have had access to Andrew’s involvement in their after school programmes
  • Close ties to BZS and BUEI’s after school programme staff
  • A PowerPoint presentation has been prepared and can be left at BUEI, BZS/BAMZ and schools for teachers to have a finished, self-contained, prepared lecture with text, photographs and video clips on humpback whales
  • A photographic display of humpback whale photographs at Kaleidoscope Art Gallery where school classes were brought in for presentations by Andrew
  • Numerous articles in the Royal Gazette, Mid-Ocean News, The Sun and three long pieces in the RG Magazine


Summary of Findings and Points of Discussion
  • Evidence that humpback whales are feeding in Bermuda on ‘krill’, copepods, fish eggs and fish including photographic evidence of what the whales are feeding on and a whale excreting
  • Evidence that humpbacks presence in Bermuda waters peaks around the full moon
  • Evidence that the deepwater canyon between the Bermuda and Challenger Banks is frequented by beaked whales including sperms and Cuvier beaked whales feeding on deep water squid
  • Evidence that humpback whales do not abandon their calves after a year and the possibility that the mothers continue to feed their calves through two seasons in the Caribbean and then abandon their calves up north in the feeding grounds during their second summer (An hour of footage of mother and 15-month calf)
  • Evidence that the humpback whales are not simply migrating by Bermuda. One whale has been photographed and filmed four days over a week long period
  • Evidence that whales are using Bermuda’s shallow waters for protection and to rest after their migration here from the Caribbean
  • Evidence that whales are using seamounts such as Bermuda to gather into family pods prior to running the gauntlet of Orcas and sharks in their northern feeding grounds. 25-33% of North Atlantic humpback whales have Orcas teeth scars on their flukes or dorsal fins. (Underwater footage of a pod of ten whales forming)
  • Suggestion that humpback singing in Bermuda may also be related to whales assembling into their family pods rather than mating related
  • Suggestion that as the first major seamount on their migration north, Bermuda could be a significant gathering area for humpbacks
  • Suggestion that humpback whales are using other seamounts to our north also as gathering points and may linger on these seamounts for a week opportunistically feeding while waiting for family members to assemble
  • Suggestion that similar fluke patterns in a pod is an indication of genetic ties
  • Suggestion that ‘breath holders’ are male and female and their ‘breath holding’ activity could be a prelude to mating (Includes footage)
  • 9 ‘Bermuda’ whales matched to whales in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, British Virgin Islands)
  • Maintained close ties with Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic

 

 
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