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Posts from the ‘Humpback Whale’ category

Beethoven the Humpback Whale! What’s in a Name?

Da-da-da-dum!  

We now have a Humpback that we’ll refer to as “Beethoven” thanks to the great creativity of Maureen and Dave Towers of Seasmoke Whale Watching.

Let me explain why we think this nickname is particularly clever.

The convention in assigning a British Columbian catalogue number to Humpback Whales is that it reflects the amount of black or white on the underside of the whale’s tail. 

The Humpbacks are determined to be an:

  • “X” if there is lots of black on the underside of the tail (less than 20% white)
  • “Y”  if there is an intermediate amount of white on the underside of the tail (20 to 80% white); or
  • “Z” if there is lots of white on the underside of the tail (more than 80% white)

For example, BCZ0004 is the 4th Humpback with a lot of white on his/her tail to be photographed in BC and catalogued. 

(Note: Up to 2010, these catalogue numbers would be assigned by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), to which we at the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) would contribute our ID photos. Since 2010, DFO has not catalogued Humpbacks whereby there are now also numbers such as BCZuk2012#3. Please see the end of this blog for an explanation of the “uk”).

BCZ0004?  It’s not such an easy name to remember is it?  So, years ago, we started assigning nicknames to the whales with the guideline that the name should somehow give a clue to the identification of the whale. The hope was that this would help people discern the whales as individuals. For example, I am responsible for giving BCZ004 the nickname “Stripe”.  See the ID page from our MERS Humpback catalogue below and determine if you think this name is fitting.

Click to enlarge. BCZ0004 aka “Stripe”. ID photos from DFO catalogue and Hildering.

Okay , so it’s not a creative name but – it worked!  People associated the stripe-like marking with the whale and could identify “Stripe” as an individual. 

Here you have the female “Chunky”, aka BCX0081.

Click to enlarge. BCX0081 aka “Chunky”. ID photos from DFO catalogue and Hildering.

Not to be confused with “Vader”, aka BCX0989, who also has a distinct v-shaped marking (may the force be with you for this one). 

Click to enlarge. BCX0989 aka “Vader”. ID photo contributed to MERS by Jacqueline McGill.

And then there are the more creative names, like “Niagara” for BCY0057 whose tail has a white spot shaped like a waterfall. 

Click to enlarge. BCY0057 aka “Niagara”. ID photos from DFO catalogue and Dr. Alexandra Morton.

“Pulteney”, aka BCZ0297, has been named with the Pulteney lighthouse in mind. See the lighthouse on BCZ0297’s tail?

Click to enlarge. BCZ0297 aka “Pultney”. ID photo contributed to MERS by Bruce Paterson.

Sometimes, the name may seem even more like taking a Rorschach Test (ink blotch test). For example, see the shape of a bear’s head on the left part of “Yogi’s” tail (aka BCY0409)? 

Click to enlarge. BCY0409 aka “Yogi”. ID photo by Jim Borrowman, Stubbs Island Whale Watching.

For the greater good, we often get local children involved in the naming and as a result have Humpbacks with highly creative nicknames like “Rocket”, “Sprinter”, “Hunter”, “Shark Tooth”, “Barracuda” and “Ashes”.

Otherwise, it is the person who first shares the sighting of the whale with MERS that has the joy of suggesting a fitting nickname. 

Such was the case with Dave and Maureen. They were the first to photograph the whale below on July 19th and relay the sighting to MERS. It is a Humpback that we had not previously sighted in the area. 

Click to enlarge. Photo by Dave Towers, Seasmoke Whale Watching.

See the dot-dot-dot-stripe on the tail?  

While “Dot-Dot-Dot-Stripe” is a very literal name, in musical notation for conductors “dot-dot-dot-stripe” signifies . . . da-da-da-dum. 

Da-da-da-dum!  Like in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony! 

Hence, there is now a Humpback whale nicknamed “Beethoven”.

Thank you Dave and Maureen – a gold star to you!

Note, regarding “uk” codes: Until 2010, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) ultimately assigned a catalogue number to Humpbacks in British Columbia. We at MERS contributed our data for this centralizing cataloguing and would assign a temporary “uk” (unknown) designation for whales not already in the DFO catalogue e.g. BCZuk2012#2 has a mostly black fluke, is not in the 2010 DFO catalogue, and was first documented by MERS in 2012. We are currently (2018) collaborating with colleagues to achieve an updated province-wide catalogue for Humpback Whales sighted off British Columbia’s coast.

The MERS Humpback catalogue can be downloaded via this link. 

Identifying Jumping Giants

This remarkable photo of a humpback whale breaching in front of Campbell River, B.C. was on the July 1st front-page of the Courier Islander newspaper. 

Humpback whale breaches in front of Campbell River on June 24th. Remarkable photo by Caylin Dubé - Oak Bay Marine Group.

As someone who has been working to ID the humpbacks around northern Vancouver Island, I almost jumped as high as that humpback when I saw the photo! I took up contact with the photographer, Caylin Dubé of the Oak Bay Marine Group, hoping she might have images from the June 24th encounter that would allow me to determine who the humpback was. Caylin was extremely generous with her photos, wanting to know who the whale was as much as we at the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) did.

My hunch was quickly confirmed. The ID work of the last 8 years allowed us to conclude that the breaching whale is BCY0291 (DFO catalogue number) who we have nicknamed “KC”. KC is short for “Kelp Creature” but the origin of that name is too long a story to explain here!

We have known this whale since it was a first year calf off the waters of Telegraph Cove in 2002; an area for which this whale has extremely strong site fidelity. However, since last year, KC has also been sighted around Campbell River, only to quickly turn around and swim back to the waters around Telegraph Cove.  We have theories about why s/he might do this but generally – it’s an additional mystery. Although the humpbacks are long-studied and easy to identify as individuals, there is still so much we do not know about these giants that breath the very air we do. For example, KC likely belongs to the population of humpbacks that go to Hawaii to breed in the winter, yet no one knows how the whales navigate to the Hawaiian Islands. 

From the MERS humpback ID catalogue. Fluke ID for BCY0291 aka "KC". Click to enlarge.

From the MERS humpback ID catalogue. Flank IDs for BCY0291 aka "KC". Click to enlarge.

Caylin’s photos also revealed that there was a second humpback with KC. Even without a photo of the underside of the tail (the easy way to identify humpbacks as individuals since the markings and trailing edge of each whale is unique), MERS dedication to also cataloguing flank photographs of the humpbacks allowed us to determine the second humpback very likely was “Arial” (BCY0767) who we also have known since a first year calf in our area in 2007. Very interestingly, these two whales have the same mother but since humpback calves only stay with their moms for a year, to our human knowledge they would not know they were siblings. That these two humpbacks sometimes travel together could be coincidence or not – yet another whale of a mystery to try to solve.

That we at MERS were able to identify the whales from Caylin’s photographs (taken from well beyond the 100 m that boats must stay away from whales) is testament to the value of the great community effort to understand the return of humpback whales to our waters.  We have ID photographs dating back to the 1980s thanks to the relentless vigilance of Dr. Alexandra Morton to understand our marine ecosystem.  Many other ID photographs have been contributed by the whale watching community from Port Hardy to Campbell River (of course taken when following the Be Whale Wise guidelines). Of special note for the consistency and longevity of their contributions is Stubbs Island Whale Watching.

For the work of the Marine Education and Research Society, including our efforts to understand the threat of humpbacks becoming entangled in fishing gear, see www.mersociety.org.  

Below, I include a few more pictures of KC, including the most entertaining ID photo we have ever received – a photo of KC heading in the direction of Campbell River passing the Spirit of the West Adventures kayaking camp. Note the happy humans-in-a-hot-tub in the foreground! Photo by Rick Snowdon of Spirit of the West. 

KC feeding in the area around Telegraph Cove in 2007. Photo: Hildering

KC breaches near Telegraph Cove, July 2nd, 2011. Photo: Hildering

KC heading in the direction of Campbell River in 2010, passing the Spirit of the West Adventures kayaking camp. Photo by Rick Snowdon. Click to enlarge.


Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles?!

Come on a journey of discovery with me – from identifying the very big, to the small. 

I’ll tell my tale of through the images below. 

Fluke BCX1188.

Meet the Humpback Whale BCX1188 nicknamed “Jigger” for the now faint fish-hook shaped scar on his/her right fluke.

 

Photo: Hildering

When we saw Jigger in 2009, we noted the barnacle growing on the right top of his/her dorsal fin. Such barnacles are a distinct species only found on humpback whales. The Humpback Whale Barnacle is Coronula diadema.

 

This is one of our flank ID shots from 2009. You’ll note that the Humpback Whale Barnacle on Jigger’s dorsal fin is quite hard to see.

 

BCX1188 right flank 2010

Then, when we saw Jigger in August of 2010, we noted that the dorsal fin looked very different. My research partner from the Marine Education and Research Society, Christie McMillan, and I were worried that it might be an injury so we tried to get a better photo of the dorsal fin.

 

Here’s what the dorsal fin looked like from the left.  When I had this perspective, I thought that what we were looking at might be seaweed growing on the Humpback Whale Barnacle we had seen the year before (note that the barnacles often do fall off between years).

 

2010 right flank BCX1188

But, it didn’t quite look like seaweed. With patience and good camera lenses, we got a better look.

 

closer right flank 2010 BCX1188

What on Earth?! They’re gooseneck barnacles growing on the humpback whale barnacle!

Gooseneck barnacles are an order of barnacles that are attached to a hard surface by a long stalk that looks like a goose’s neck. They depend on the motion of the water to feed on plankton as they do not have the “foot” (cirri) that rakes in plankton in many other barnacle species.

 

Goose neck barnacles - close

That’s when I learned that there is a species of gooseneck barnacle that, in the North Pacific Ocean, most often grows on the Humpback Whale Barnacle!!! The species is the Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacle, Conchoderma auritum.

This is the kind of discovery that causes wonder and euphoria in my world.

To be able to identify a Humpback as an individual is already something of great scientific and educational value.

That this attention to an individual whale leads me to learn that there is a species of gooseneck barnacle that grows almost exclusively on a species of barnacle that only grows on Humpback Whales  = sheer wonder.

I can’t wait to find out what else the Humpbacks are going to teach me!


From E-FAUNA BC: ELECTRONIC ATLAS OF THE WILDLIFE OF BRITISH COLUMBIAConchoderma auritum is most often found attached to the shells of Coronula on the humpback whale; sometimes more than fifty are attached to one shell. “Rarely a specimen is found attached to the base of the teeth of an old sperm whale” (Sheffer, 1939). Gordon C. Pike reports finding specimens of C. auritumon sperm and fin whales taken in British Columbia. In each case the barnacles were associated with a deformation or an apathological condition of the jaws, baleen, or teeth. Each barnacle is usually oriented with the opening facing in the direction the whale swims. The food-laden water passes through the opening and over the feeding appendages, then out through the two “ears” which have tubular openings.”

From the Marine Species Identification Portal: Species is “attached to the whale barnacle Coronula diadema and sometimes Coronula reginae. It seems to be a rule that no Coronula is without a Conchoderma. Whether this is a form of symbiosis has been discussed by Broch (1924b). Specimens from northern waters have been taken from humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae ) or from teeth of bottle-nosed whales (Hyperodon spp.). In the Antarctic C. auritum has also been found on baleen plates of whales and on their tails. In tropical and subtropical parts of the oceans it can also be found attached to ships’ hulls and other floating objects, to slow moving fishes or to the tail of a large eel, but never on soft objects.”

 

You Win! You Lose?

You win some and you lose some . . . or do you?

Humpback Comeback Results

The final AVIVA voting results in our funding category (to $25K). Click image for close-up.

On January 19th, I had the extreme honour of accepting the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray A. Newman Award for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation.  In the thick, wonderful soup of positive emotions associated with this, I delight in the award being known as The MAN Award.  Yeah, I got a MAN award! (For my acceptance speech, see the link at the bottom of this post).

On January 25th, it was announced that the Marine Education and Research Society’s Humpback Comeback Project would not receive funding dollars from the AVIVA Community Fund. (I am a director for MERS and have had the joy of 7 years of volunteer effort in studying local humpbacks.) The competition result was a shock as this small local project succeeded in getting the third highest number of votes out of more than 520 in our category (7,113 votes total, more than 1,100 votes ahead of the forth place).

After the intensive on-line voting, the projects were judged and Humpback Comeback was determined not to best meet the AVIVA criteria/priorities. See the winning projects at this link. Observations are that “build ’em” and human-to-human projects such as playgrounds were more successful in meeting the criteria of this generous and PR-savvy insurance company.

It was a shock yes, but there are far more similarities between winning the MAN award and the AVIVA result than just my exclaiming “Oh man!” at the end of both.

I could not have achieved what was recognized by the award without the opportunities and support provided by the people of Northern Vancouver Island.  The astounding community support and encouragement we also received for the Humpback Comeback Project provided an equally potent affirmation of purpose.

Losing?  Every time someone voted for the Project or that we had a media opportunity, awareness was created for whales and for the threat of entanglement; positive attention was focused on our area and its remarkable biodiversity; and people responded to an opportunity to create positive change.  There are those that have now even decided to support the Project through donations or by helping to find alternative funding sources (donations made via www.mersociety.org).

Sometimes life deals a challenge that only intensifies focus, strengthens resolve, and enhances creativity to achieve what you believe in.  Oh man, I assure you that this is the case with the Humpback Comeback Project!

Great thanks to you all for the support.
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Photo by Vancouver Aquarium's John Healey. The Marine Detective among Drs. Left to right: Dr. Randall Peterman - winner MAN award for Science; Dr. Murray A. Newman - award is in his honour; founding director of the Vancouver Aquarium; Dr. John Nightengale - President Vancouver Aquarium.

 

For my acceptance speech for the Murray A. Newman award, see this link (15 minutes). It is apparently laughter and tear inducing with the ultimate message being – be relentless in creating positive change.  Includes lots of my images of the marine biodiversity of Northern Vancouver Island.

See announcement of the award in the North Island Gazette.

For previous posts on humpbacks and the Humpback Comeback Project, scroll down at this link.



The Humans Behind “Humpback Comeback”

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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With just a few more days left to vote for the “Humpback Comeback” Project in the AVIVA Community Fund’s competition, I feel I need to crack.

I need to crack and respond to the many questions about who “we” are, the humans behind the Humpback Comeback Project.

We haven’t wanted to answer because of course, it isn’t a comfortable thing to put yourself “out there”; it’s been a broad community effort where we can’t mention everybody involved and; we didn’t want to detract from what the Project is about  – the whales and understanding the risk of entanglement.

But with all the remarkable support the Project has received, I feel we owe you.  Maybe too, in revealing the human element, the dedication behind the Project will be even more apparent and you’ll know all the more that your votes have been well invested.

So who are we, the volunteer effort behind the Humpback Comeback Project?  Below I include the biographies provided in our submission to the AVIVA Community Fund competition. Please realize that the information was written with the purpose of relaying our commitment to the Project and to our community. Self-promotion is difficult and awkward but the we did it to help the chance of success in the funding competition.

In complete self-mockery, we also include photos of ourselves so you can see the human faces behind Humpback Comeback. The photos were taken when we were out looking for humpbacks last week, on the cold Northeast Pacific. We recognize that the photos wouldn’t serve us well on Plenty of Fish but that’s not their purpose . .. for us, it’s about plenty of whales!

Please know too that there are so many more who have contributed time, resources and sightings – local whale watching companies (e.g. Stubbs Island Whale Watching began the data collection effort); Dr. Alexandra Morton (shared all the humpback data she had collected since the 1980s); our fellow members of the Marine Education and Research Society (Caitlin Birdsall, Leah Thorpe and Heidi Krajewsky) and many more from Northern Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada.

Thank you so much for caring and for your support.

Vote #5773!

Chrisite McMillan. Vote 5 . . .

 

Christie McMillan (Alert Bay, B.C.) has spent two years as a Humpback Whale Studies Research Assistant and member of the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Working with some of the world’s experts in entanglement research and humpback whale biology, she has gained skills and expertise in both of these fields.  She has also worked as a Cetacean Research Technician for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and an environmental educator and Naturalist for various non-profit and eco-tourism organizations.  She has played a key role in collecting, processing, and analyzing our humpback whale data since 2005.

Jared Towers. Vote 7, 7 . . .

 

Jared Towers (Alert Bay, B.C.) is a Cetacean Research Technician with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and has been operating boats and studying wild whales off the coast of British Columbia for the past 23 years.  He also is the Founder and Past President of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association, an organization dedicated to finding the balance between sustainable eco-tourism and marine mammal conservation.  He is a skilled researcher, educator, and Captain, having worked in locations all over British Columbia, as well as in Mexico and Antarctica. He has been involved in our humpback whale research for the past 7 years.

Yours truly. Jackie Hildering. Vote 3 . . . Vote #5773!

 

Jackie Hildering (Port McNeill, B.C.) has been collecting and processing our humpback whale data for 7 years.  She is a highly respected marine educator with a very strong connection to the local community. She has worked as a marine naturalist for 12 years; was Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Education Coordinator for 7 years; runs a Young Naturalist Club; is President of the local dive club; and works for the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation.

Her role in the community is further evident in the local recognition she has received.  This includes:

  • 2010 winner of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray A. Newman Award for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation.
  • Recognition from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Director of Oceans, Habitat and Enhancement for “contribution to the preservation and enhancement of the salmonid resource  . . . helping ensure a better future for all Canadians” (June 2010)
  • Professional Merit Award – Port McNeill & District Chamber of Commerce (2009)
  • LiveSmart BC “Community Hero” (Oct 2008)
  • One of the top 3 nominees for the “Free the Children” Society’s “Me to We Awards” in the educator category (2007)


Humpback Comeback Project – Worth the Vote

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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In recognition of how important the information was to our Humpback Comeback Project, Jim Borrowman provided us with his photos of a humpback whale entanglement dating back to September 23rd, 1994. This was a time when it was very rare to see humpbacks around N. Vancouver Island (B.C., CANADA) since they had been whaled intensely into the 1950s.

I include one of these images below but be warned that it is very upsetting.  I share it with you as it shows how devastating the threat of getting entangled in fishing gear can be. The photo provides insight into how necessary research into the threat of entanglement is and  . . . how valuable your voting is for the Humpback Comeback Project. (Please click here to place your daily vote so that $25K could be won for humpback entanglement research).

Christie McMillan (colleague in the Project who has expertise in judging the severity of entanglement injuries), concluded that the whale must have been entangled for a considerable time before these images were taken. The evidence of this is that the whale is very thin (emaciated) and its skin condition is very poor, being heavily covered in cyamids (whale lice).

Whale with severe entanglement injuries, 1994. Photo by Jim Borrowman; Stubbs Island Whale Watching; http://www.stubbs-island.com/

 

Jim Borrowman, Mike Durban and Dave Towers worked together and succeeded in freeing this whale from the lines. This heroic effort served as the inspiration for the children’s book “The Rescue of Nanoose” by Mary Borrowman and Chloe O’Loughlin; illustrated by Jacqueline Wang.

More, larger photos showing the severity of this entanglement at this link.

If you need more background on how to vote for the Humpback Comeback Project , please click here.

“Idol” for Humpbacks – Vote #5773

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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Ready Team?

If you are reading this it is because you likely care enough to take one minute a day (to 9 AM Pacific, December 15, 2010), to help British Columbia’s humpbacks.

$25,000 for humpback entanglement research is at stake. Our “Humpback Comeback Project” has made the final round of voting in the AVIVA Community Fund and will need your votes to successfully compete “Idol style” against projects supported by the population base of urban Ontario.

How to help?

  • Register at this link if you have not yet had the opportunity to do so  (then click the link in the email that will be sent to you).
  • Spread the word any way you can . Our huge thanks to those who have Tweeted, Facebooked, forwarded these email bulletins, made posters and helped us get radio and print interviews. Your support has not only landed the Project in the final voting round, it has been deeply inspirational.

    "Arial" (BCY0767); known to us to be 3-years-old; born to "Houdini"( BCX0022); and having very strong fidelity to the area. Image: Hildering

    Whale-sized thanks indeed.


    Jackie Hildering
    Marine Educator / Biologist

If you would like a daily reminder, I would be very happy to provide you with one. Please click here.

If you would like to follow along on Facebook, join at this link.

For knowledge of just how bad the threat of entanglement can be, please see the images at the postings here.

Please note that your minute of voting a day supports the effort invested by myself and others who have volunteered their own resources for up to seven years to catalogue the return of the humpbacks and strive to understand the threats to them.

We will continue to volunteer our data collection time but can not carry out this extended study without financial support.

Looks Like We Made It – Humpback Comeback Project

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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Thank you so much!

Our  small, Northern Vancouver Island project has withstood whale-sized odds and, with your continued support, may now win $25,000 for humpback conservation research.

The Humpback Comeback Project competed against community projects from across Canada in the AVIVA Community Fund’s contest that operates very much like an “Idol” for charities.

So many people voted for Humpback Comeback that it has advanced to the final round of the voting, finishing in the top 30 of 528 projects in the funding category.  But now the going gets really tough since our Project is up against many (wonderful) community projects that are championed by large population bases in urban Ontario.

Our Project may not originate from a densely populated area, but the community of people who recognize the importance of this research is very large indeed.

So, please, in true Idol style, from December 2nd to 15th,  click here to find out how to vote for the Humpback Comeback Project, #5773!

You have one vote a day for ten days in this time period.

Please too could you promote the Project by sharing this blog item with your social networks? Demanding, I know – but a great deal is at stake.

BCY0710

BCY0710 "Twister" who was entangled in prawn trap lines and anchored to the bottom, twice in a 3 week period in 2009 (May 18th and June 10th). Photo: Jared Towers.

 

If you would like a daily reminder, I would be very happy to provide you with one. Please click here.

If you would like to follow along on Facebook, join at this link.

If you’ve not registered in the prior round of voting, you will have to do so and then click the link that gets sent to you in an email.

Click here for the direct link to the Project.

After the final voting round, a jury will decide which of the top scoring Projects will be funded.

What a SPLASH it would create if this included the Humpback Comeback Project!

From team MERS – again, thank you so much.


Humpback Comeback Project – Please Vote!

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.

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I have a whale-sized favour to ask . . . I need your votes.

To be exact, I need one vote a day for the next 10 days and your support in spreading the word to generate more votes for our “Humpback Comeback” research project.

It is of huge importance to me and the others in our small group of dedicated whale researchers on the Northern Vancouver Island (British Columbia) who, for the past 7 years, have been using our own boats, fuel, and equipment to try to learn more about humpbacks.

We have a chance of getting support through the Aviva Community Fund for an essential study to determine the rate of entanglement of humpbacks in B.C.  (whales getting caught in fishing gear). In a well-studied area of the North Atlantic ocean, about 75% of humpback whales have been tangled up in fishing gear at some point in their lives but there has been very little research into this threat to humpbacks in British Columbia.

Our motivation for this project is a direct result of what we have observed locally. See below for a very recent example of the severity of entanglement injury to a local humpback. The shocking images are of the before-and-after-entanglement of a whale we have nicknamed “Sharktooth” (no DFO catalogue number yet).

Please start voting today and up to November 26th, so that we might move on to the semi-finals.

Everyone has 10 votes (one vote a day), and you can vote for the same idea all 10 times.

So use your votes, tell your friends, and use Facebook or other social networks to spread the word! Please.

You need to register to vote at this link.

Then, please click the link in the email that is sent to you. You can then vote for the “Humpback Comeback Project” every day by clicking here.

Great thanks.

"Sharktooth" on June 20, 2010 - no injuries. Photo: Jackie Hildering. Click to enlarge.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson. Click to enlarge.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson.

Of Humpbacks and Waterfalls

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.

BCY0057 nicknamed "Niagara".

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  . . . .

Click here for the image of Niagara (BCY0057) lunge feeding and for a larger ID photo.