Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Whales have names, too??

Hi, everyone! Let me first begin by introducing myself. My name is Kelly Kleister and I work with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society out of Plymouth, MA as a marine mammal observer. I’m also one of the marine mammal observers on the marine predator team aboard the R/V Endeavor, along with Reny Tyson (Duke) and Tim White (CUNY). Despite the earlier technical difficulties and more recent bad weather, we are happy to report that we’ve already had some great sightings! After receiving our final delivery by boat off of Provincetown, we began to get underway and head for Georges Bank. But before we had even completely left the Bay, we saw 5 humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), one of which I was able to identify! Her name is Circuit and she was traveling with her latest calf. Circuit was first sighted in 1999 and previously had a calf in 2008.

Circuit's fluke pattern.

Now, you may be wondering ‘How do you identify a whale’? Well, it’s actually quite simple and it’s what I’ve been doing with WDCS. Each humpback whale has a unique black and white pattern on the underside of their tail, or fluke. It’s kind of like their fingerprint and this is how we can positively identify one humpback from another. The Gulf of Maine population returns to these waters every May to begin feeding on small bait fish and krill. They’ll eat about a ton and half of food every single day until they leave between September and November for their breeding grounds in the Caribbean. WDCS and many other similar organizations have been photographing, documenting, and naming these whales since 1976, when the first humpback whale was ever given a name. We’ve seen many of these whales come back every single year, some since the year they were born. And it’s through this almost 40 year study that we can determine how our local humpback population is doing by seeing who’s coming back every feeding season and, more importantly, who’s bringing new calves to the area.

Yum!! Whale food! Photo credit: Kelly Kleister

Circuit, however, didn’t fluke for me but I was able to ID her by a small white dot that’s on the right side of her dorsal fin. It was great to start off the trip with her and her calf, both of whom we’ve seen a lot of these last few months. And with that we headed off for Georges Bank.

The image on the left is when we saw Circuit before leaving, the one on the right is from a previous sighting. You can see how by matching the markings we can positively ID her just from her dorsal. Photo credit: Kelly Kleister

Unfortunately, our first day out on the Bank was really rough and we were unable to begin our observations. When there are high winds and a lot of whitecaps, it makes it difficult to distinguish a whale from a wave. But Halloween brought some great treats for us. We spotted a single humpback blow at a distance, but soon after we were greeted by a pod of longfinned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) right next to the boat! We had a pod of about 5 or 6 whales, which also included a young calf. They seemed to be feeding off of the red fish that some nearby fishing boats had tossed overboard, along with the numerous seabirds around our vessel that had also taken advantage of the floating buffet. So far, we haven’t seen anything else as sea conditions haven’t been too great. But hopefully the next few days will be much better and we’ll be able to report back with some more amazing sightings!

The little head closest to the camera is a baby!! Photo credit: Reny Tyson

More pilot whales. Photo credit: Reny Tyson

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kelly, i joined blogger recently and came across your blog. Its really nice to know that there are people who are taking so much pain to understand these organisms in the sea. Why i am writing to you is because, you mentioned you are from dolphin conservation society, so in that regard, i would like to know if there is any dolphin conservation academy or something like this in or around India??