The whales are here! Blue Ocean Society releases annual whale research report and looks forward to new season
PORTSMOUTH - Whale watching expeditions started in New Hampshire last month and the whales are here! In conjunction with seeing the first whales of the season, Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation has released their 2019 Whale Research Report, detailing the sightings of last year. Dianna Schulte, Director of Research, says that she is looking forward to seeing how 2020 compares to 2019, and which whales will show up this summer.
“Humpback, fin and minke whales are often seen off our coast from May through October and even longer,” Schulte said. “We can recognize individual whales based on their natural markings and have kept track of them year to year since 1996. They migrate away from here during the winter and face a number of threats all throughout the ocean, so it is always a relief to see them return.”
Last year’s sightings emphasize the need for boaters and fishermen to exercise caution to avoid hurting these animals. A humpback whale named Owl was documented in good health after being ensnared in a purse-seiner’s fishing net in 2018. A humpback whale calf was observed being hit by a sailboat and another humpback whale was seen entangled in monofilament fishing line. While local population numbers seem healthy, humpback whales are a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
On the positive side, in 2019 Blue Ocean Society documented 95 individual humpback whales (including 3 calves) based on their unique markings. Adult humpback whales made up 94% of the individuals seen, implying the positive productivity and health of the region. Calves who were still nursing made up 3% of the individuals, while the remaining 3% were juvenile whales or whales of unknown age class.
“Experienced adult whales know where to go to find food. If there is not enough food, they are not going to stay here. Humpbacks don’t eat all winter, so it is really important for them to find food when they are here in the Gulf of Maine during the spring, summer and fall,” said Schulte.
This year, Blue Ocean Society has implemented a new electronic data collection system, Mysticetus, to aid in more quickly recording data and reporting their findings. The system is run aboard a laptop on the whale watch boat and can record whale locations and behaviors and quickly tabulate sightings. The system was purchased with the help of private donors and the support of the Perkin Fund.
To view the 2019 Whale Research Report Summary, visit www.blueoceansociety.org/blog/2019-research-summary/. For a chance to see whales in the wild aboard a whale watch, contact Granite State Whale Watch (www.granitestatewhalewatch.com).
Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring people to take action and make a positive change for the ocean. Using its leading research, Blue Ocean Society educates people about marine life and the distinct threats to the marine environment. For more information, contact Blue Ocean Society at 603-431-0260 or visit www.blueoceansociety.org.