2011 04 17- Studying whales from above the surface is like... Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   


Photo above taken by Roland Lines. The whale, probably a female, used our boat to distract the attentions of some ardent male suitors. We have seen this whale over several days this season. Judie Clee matched this distinctive fluke to Allied Whale's NAHWC#2332 first photographed in 1983 with appearances in Puero Rico, Dominican Republic and Gulf of Maine. This is also known as Nova by the Provincetown Centre of Coastal Studies with their only sighting off Massachusetts in the 1980s.  Nova is not a Gulf of Maine whale as such and probably summers elsewhere.

So far this year alone we have matched 41 of our Bermuda fluke IDs to either the Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue or the Provincetown Centre of Coastal Studies catalogue. In addition so far we have made 19 re-sightings of this season's whales to previous years' sightings here in Bermuda. This year looks like it will be a bumper crop of fluke IDs with about 150 individual whales catalogued this season so far in Bermuda. This is more than the total inventory of 146 fluke IDs made in Bermuda over 40 years from 1968 to 2006.

Studying whales from above the surface of the water is the equivalent of trying to understand elephants by examining the tips of their trunks underwater when they come to a watering hole to drink. It isn't easy getting into the water with a group of humpbacks in Bermuda and can take a whole season of getting out on the water for one or two opportunities in the water with the whales. We had that chance today.

We set out today early with a visiting whale researcher who has worked for decades studying humpbacks in the Caribbean and Hawaii. Staying with me as my guest for a week, Jeff was keen to see some of the pelagic social behaviour of the North Atlantic humpbacks and share his knowlege. We were lucky to find a surface active group fifteen miles offshore. Judging from their dorsal fins, the group seemed to consist of more than one adult female and three or four adult males. As can sometimes happen in situations like this, one of the females kept coming towards our boat as if trying to dissuade the males from pursuing her. Unfortunately the opportunity to confirm the gender and size (age) by getting into the water was lost due to the close approach of a commercial dive boat with snorkelers. When a third boat appeared the group of whales broke into two groups and the moment was lost.

I have quite a few fluke IDs to catalogue and am behind schedule with the re-arrival of my wife and two daughters from New Zealand, but I'll get caught up as soon as I can and put the new fluke IDs on the website.

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