In October of this year, researchers at Allied Whale, a marine mammal research organization, recorded the 8,000th image of a humpback whale, an endangered species, into its photographic database.
This is a milestone for the organization, which seeks to increase the population of the humpback whale since it received legal protection in 1955, when commercial whaling was stopped in the North Atlantic.
Estimates from 1977 suggest that there were fewer than 2,000 humpbacks in the North Atlantic, but today, Allied Whale senior scientist Peter Stevick told Working Waterfront, a combination of known whales and estimates based on sampling methods suggest there may be closer to 20,000 humpbacks in the North Atlantic.
“They are dependent upon having a whole series of processes in the oceans doing what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it,” said Stevick. “If there’s a shift in the timing of when certain prey species are available, especially if they’re ones we don’t fish for, nobody might notice. But if that led to a sudden shift in where the whales are or what they’re doing, we would notice. They’re dependent on having a healthy ocean, and they’re big and obvious, and we pay attention them.”
The program uses photographs of natural patterns and markings to identify and track marine mammals. This has lead to advances in the study of behavior and migratory patterns of north Atlantic humpback whales.
“While this has grown to become one of the most commonly used techniques for studying whales today,” said Stevick to the College of the Atlantic News. “It was a revolution in whale research at the time.”
Some 32,500 records of whales have been photographed from all areas of the north Atlantic Ocean, with some sightings spanning nearly 40 years.
“It is a massively collaborative venture,” Stevick said. “About 700 individuals and groups have contributed their photos and data to the effort. In addition, hundreds of staff, students and volunteers have kept the effort going over the years.