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Humpback whale underwater

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I’ll tell you whale i’ve been … Part 1!

Following on from the exciting discovery made by IWDG and others of a travelling humpback whale in the north east Atlantic, thanks to photo-id (where individual whales can be recognised over time due to distinctive and unique markings on the underside of their flukes) researchers are slowly pulling together the different pieces of the jigsaw and are getting closer to unravelling the mystery of the migratory pathways of humpback whales in the north-east Atlantic.

In truth however, the advancement in understanding where these whales are coming from and going to is moving along in leaps and bounds. Just the other day for example, a match was made between a humpback whale seen off the coast of Ireland with a humpback whale seen off the coast of Iceland only weeks earlier. Every sighting is taking researchers a step closer and all thanks to photo-id and the different researchers determination to find out more!

In addition to sightings in higher latitudes, researchers at IWDG have spent the last few years undertaking humpback whale research in the Cape Verde Islands, off the west coast of Africa, with the belief that these islands represent a breeding ground for northeastern Atlantic humpback whales. And their hard work appears to be paying off as not only was one Cape Verdean humpback resighted in the Azores, possibly en route to the northern feeding grounds but three other individuals from the Cape Verde Islands have also been photographed on feeding grounds off Bear Island, Norway and Iceland. 

As with other humpback whale populations, it is thought that there is a strong loyalty to these summer feeding areas and that this faithfulness is driven by the females (specifically the mothers) and maintained over generations. As you might imagine, this knowledge of where to find food is hugely important for the whales and given that is is passed down from generation to generation every individual whale plays an important part in ensuring the long-term viability of humpback whales in the north-east Atlantic. To lose even one individual (and especially a mother) – whether due to Icelandic whaling or entanglement in fishing gear – could be catastrophic for the population as a whole.

Thanks to a variety of researchers throughout the region work is on-going trying to understand the north-east Atlantic humpback whale conundrum and as soon as there is more news to share we’ll be sure to bring it to you however if you fancy finding out more about these wandering whales then the researchers recent publication makes for interesting reading.

In the meantime you can help support our work by adopting a humpback whale.

About Nicola Hodgins

Policy Manager at WDC