2009 March 19th No entangled calf, but 2 whales exactly where we expected. And more fluke matches! Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

With a small window of relatively fair weather, Michael Smith, Camilla Stringer and myself set off on Sea Slipper at 2 in the afternoon to see if we could locate the entangled calf. After searching where we had seen them last Sunday and finding no whales at all on the Bermuda platform or around Sally Tuckers, we decided to set off for Challenger. There were no whales to be seen on the edge of Challenger so we proceded to the crown some fourteen miles off Bermuda. In the past this is where we have consistently seen or heard whales. Approaching the crown we spotted two spouts exactly where we expected. On the crown we dropped a hydrophone overboard to listen. The swells were enormous here, like small mountains. We drifted for twenty minutes with the engine off, listening unsuccesfully for whales. Just as I was pulling in the hydrophone a whale surfaced beside the boat and began inspecting us, swimming underneath and all around the boat. Eventually he disappeared and resurfaced with another whale heading back in the direction of the crown. We managed to get a photograph of one fluke as the whale dived and just as the other dived he disappeared behind a mountainous wall of water as we dipped into a trough. We had drifted about 3/10 of a nautical mile off the crown so we started the engine and headed for the crown again and turned off the engine and dropped the hydrophone overboard and listened for some time as the swells lifted us. Finally I gave up on hearing the whales. Standing at the back of the boat I was bringing the hydrophone on board when one of the humpbacks breached just aft of the stern followed by the second whale who breached in exactly the same fashion, the setting sun lighting both breaches perfectly. The whales had caught us completely unaware so we have no photos of what was a perfect pas de deux. It was a wonderful finale to a day spent searching what had seemed like an empty ocean. The sun set and soon it was dark/. It was another three hours before we had crossed the canyon back to the Bermuda platform and threaded our way through the reefs (and the glowworms) back to Michael's dock.




The day brought more confirmation of what we have suspected, and more questions. Based on past observations, the whales seem to use the crown as the centrepoint of their aggregations and for singing. These two whales remained circling within some hundreds of feet of the crown. They were down for around 10-12 minutes, but not feeding, as if waiting. How do they know exactly where the crown is? We use the GPS to pinpoint the crown and the black markers on the GPS denote how many times we have seen whales at this particular spot. There are black markers on black markers crowded around one area, similar to the point at Sally Tuckers where they tend to feed as well as aggregate. How do the humpbacks find the highest point on the Challenger crown with such accuracy? By diving? By bouncing sound off the bottom like sonar? Magnetic variations?


Also interesting is the fact that a week ago there were whales everywhere on Challenger, during the full moon. Now, a week later, there are almost no whales. I expect the main wave of migrating whales to begin in about a week. So which are the whales we've been seeing so far? Whales residing for the winter on the open ocean? Will they begin to aggregate here now? Have we already witnessed early aggregations prior to them moving up north?

And here are the new fluke matches:

Roger Etcheberry in St-Pierre et Miquelon matched two of our whales from our online Bermuda fluke catalogue. Their whale SPM141 on the left is matched to our whale #0016 1 bd 2007 04 21 as and Allied Whale's NAHWC#5346.

It was previously photographed in:

Feb 1985 Silver Bank (K. Balcomb)

Jan 1989 Samana Bay (Center for Coastal Studies

Feb 1993 Silver Bank (Center for Coastal Studies - YoNAH)

Aug 2006 St. Pierre & Miquelon (R. Etcheberry)


Their whale Tn0014 on the left photographed on 20th August 2002 near St Anthony Newfoundland is matched to our #0035 1 bd 2008 04 06 as which has already been matched to Allied Whale's NAHWC#3558  photographed previously in 1982 Red Bay, Labrador, Canada; 1986 - British Virgin Islands, West Indies.


And here's yet another match. Dr Peter Stevick recognised my photo #0073 on the right below when it appeared on the homepage of this website under the 'Recognise this fluke?' He took his photo on the left below in 1993 in Conception Bay, Newfoundland during the Year of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale project.

The fact that he recognised this fluke immediately as one that he had taken some years earlier is even more remarkable for the fact that my photo on the right taken off Trinity, Newfoundland in 2008 has a big chunk taken out of the tail, probably by an orca. This goes to show that the fluke shapes can change over the years.




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