‘Winter Whales’ Spotted Off Sonesta Beach

December 23, 2011

Five humpback whales were spotted in 100-feet of water off Sonesta Beach earlier this week; the sixth season in a row the ‘winter whales’ have been sighted.

Whale researcher Andrew Stevenson said, “It is very important to log these winter sightings to help us understand the humpback whales’ behaviour. Most studies of the humpbacks anywhere in the world take place close to shore in the summer feeding and winter breeding grounds. There is very little data on the whales’ movements in the middle of the ocean apart from the few satellite-tagged whales which have been tagged prior to their migrations.”

“There have been no tagged whales in the middle of the ocean in the middle of winter. That makes Bermuda an ideal platform to document any winter sightings of whales either off our shores or on the seamounts Challenger and Argus Banks. For example, the sightings made today are interesting because they reveal four to five whales together in shallow water.

“Why were the whales together, and why in shallow water? Data like this is incredibly important to marine scientists. We have managed to get the fluke IDs of some of these ‘winter’ whales and have been able to match them in the catalogue of 7,000 identified whales in the North Atlantic.”

The photo below shows a mother and calf , both flukes were identified:

Mr Stevenson continued, “With a humpback population estimated at 14,000 whales in the North Atlantic, every fluke ID we obtain here in Bermuda has a 50% chance of being matched. Some of these matches go back almost four decades and can reveal the history of the identified whale’s feeding and breeding grounds closer to shore where these previous fluke IDs have been made.

“I urge anyone seeing a whale during these winter months to please email us at spout@logic.bm or call 77-SPOUT (777-7688) to pass on the sighting information which will then be logged. If an fluke ID is made this information is even more important. We would like to know the number of whales, their approximate position, any obvious activity (breaching, tailing lobbing, direction of movement), time
observed and for how long.”

“The Humpback Whale Research Project Bermuda has identified 450 individual whales here in Bermuda, most of them during the main migration in April. This is three times the total number of whales identified by visiting marine scientists in the previous forty years! Some of these whales are repeat customers, returning year after year to Bermuda on their way north to the summer feeding grounds.

“Many whales have been photographed and identified over a period of several days (as much as nine) during their migration past Bermuda, and this past year 20% of the whales we identified we had been observed in the previous four seasons indicating fidelity to their migratory routes. This will be the Humpback Whale Research Project Bermuda’s six year of gathering data on the humpback whales providing unique insights into the pelagic social behaviour of the humpback whales,” concluded Mr Stevenson.

Andrew Stevenson has collaborated with marine scientists in the USA and Canada to give presentations on his data at the Society for Marine Mammology. The Humpback Whale Research Project relies on donations to continue its work.

Much of the information gathered has been made available in Mr Stevenson’s award-winning 60-minute documentary “Where the Whales Sing” and in his recently published book, “Whale Song: Journeys into the secret lives of the North Atlantic humpbacks”.

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