This comes to you from the Coast Guard ship the J.P. Tully where I have the great good fortune to serve as a marine mammal spotter for the next days.
We have been recording many humpbacks sightings but today, while the larger ship was being fuelled in Port Hardy, we were able to do some work from a zodiac, allowing for a better opportunity to ID the humpbacks as individuals.
I share with you the experience of seeing one of these individuals, the humpback carrying the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) ID number BCY0057.
It is the easiest to ID humpbacks as individuals by using the unique markings of their tails. This particular humpback was one that we very quickly were able to recognize due to a very distinctly shaped white spot near the centre of its tail. The marking is in the shape of a waterfall so, since “BCY0057″ is not an easy name to remember, locally this whale is known by the nickname . . . Niagara.
We know that Niagara is about 10 years old due to Dr. Alexandra Morton having taken a picture of the whale in 2000 when it was travelling with its mother. As a further result of these photo records, we also know that Niagara’s mother is BCX0022 (aka “Houdini”), one of the most prolific humpbacks known to research. She had 5 calves in 7 years, quite the feat considering that humpbacks are pregnant for about a year.
Today’s experience of seeing Niagara again was quite moving. It was also ideal from a research perspective since we were able to get good ID shots of the tail and both sides of the animal and, since Niagara was feeding at the surface, it was possible to collect scale samples of the fish being fed upon. DNA testing of these scales will confirm what species of fish Niagara was eating.
At the link below, I share with you an image of Niagara “lunge feeding” so that you can get a sense of how far the throat pleats of humpbacks distend to allow huge volumes of food and water to be engulfed. Reportedly up to 20,000 litres is taken in per mouthful. The water is then pushed out through the baleen.
The image also shows you the “beard” of barnacles on Niagara’s throat pleats. These species specific barnacles will surely be a topic of a future blog.
And, if you look very carefully, you’ll see Niagara’s right eye with lids closed.
Duty calls . . . .