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Humpback whale underwater

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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

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Boto © Fernando Trujillo

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Whale have you been?

Back in 2007 a humpback whale photographed close to Texel Island in the Wadden Sea, Netherlands was positively matched to a humpback whale photographed off Toe Head, County Cork, Ireland several months later. Several weeks after frequenting Irish waters, the same individual was re-sighted just 60km south of where it was initially recorded off the Netherlands. During the six months between sightings, this individual completed at least a 2,500km round trip, traversing through some of the busiest (and therefore dangerous for a young whale) waters in the world – the English Channel.

Comparisons with existing photo-identification catalogues determined that the whale was previously unrecorded from any other part of the North Atlantic. In itself this was an important discovery as this represented the first match of a humpback whale within Northeast European continental shelf waters and the first ever, international match of a humpback whale from either Ireland or the Netherlands. However the story doesn’t end there …

Back in 2010, Fredrik Broms set up the North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue (NNHWC) after an unprecedented numbers of humpback whales arrived in his local area of Tromso, something that hadn’t happened since the 1920’s. From his catalogue of individually identified humpback whales (already over the 200 mark and could reach 300 recognisable individuals by the time he has analysed all of this seasons) he has already made eight matches with individuals sighted in the Cape Verde Islands and several matches with whales catalogued in the Azores. I think by now you can see where this is going … he recently confirmed a match between the humpback whale noted above, spotted off the coast of Ireland and the Netherlands, and a whale spotted five years later and several hundred kilometres inside the Arctic Circle. 

Although this doesn’t tell the full story, the whale’s journey from Ireland to Norway by way of the Netherlands is an interesting piece of the puzzling answer to the question, “What are the migratory pathways of the humpback whales seen in north-western Europe?”

Not only does this discovery remind us how little we know about some of the great whales, importantly it also highlights the need to remember that migratory whales have no nationality, belong to no-one and deserve protective measures at an international level. 

You can also help our work by adopting a humpback whale.

About Nicola Hodgins

Policy Manager at WDC