Boaters Invited to Serve as Citizen Scientists

Help Track the Migration of Endangered Humpback Whales - Photographs of humpback whale flukes are key to conservation efforts

Newport, Rhode Island – January 22, 2014 – Sailors for the Sea, the only ocean conservation nonprofit focused on the sailing and boating community, today published CARIB Tails: An International Citizen Science Project for Boaters.

Nathalie Ward, PhD, NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, contributed this month’s Ocean Watch Essay, and calls all boaters from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean seas to serve as citizen scientists in CARIB Tails – a photo-identification program that allows scientists to monitor the recovery of endangered humpback whales.

“Seeing a humpback whale while cruising the Caribbean is a memory that boaters never forget, and a photograph of its flukes help scientists protect these spectacular animals,” says Ward.

Citizen scientists contribute photographs of humpback whales that scientists use to identify and catalogue individual whales by comparing black and white pigmentation patterns and scars on the underside of humpback whale flukes. Photo-identification is key to monitoring the recovery of humpback whales, and successful research efforts about population sizes and migration patterns by helping scientists track the lifetime travel of individual animals.

Readers of Ward’s essay also learn about the migratory path of humpback whales – the longest marine animal migration in the animal kingdom, and the threats faced by this population of almost 1,000 whales as they return with their calves each spring to NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Gulf of Maine).

CARIB Tails and Fluke Cataloguing – Findings Abound
CARIB Tails is an international research collaboration between NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme’s Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife’s Programme, and other conservation partners. Since the early 1970s, scientists have catalogued with formal identification numbers and names humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary and throughout the Gulf of Maine.

When new photographs of humpback tail flukes are received, they are matched against the photographs in the existing North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue, which has been maintained since 1976 by Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Maine). The Catalogue, which contains photographs of more than 7,000 individual humpback whales, includes details about each whale sighting, including date, time, and location. It is a collaborative effort between scientists, naturalists, citizen scientists, and tourists who have contributed photographs from regions including North America (U.S.A. and Canada), Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and the Caribbean.

Ward notes, “Information gained from the Catalogue helps advance understanding of marine mammal conservation, and habitat protection, raise public awareness, and motivate marine mammal conservation action and stewardship.” Already scientists have used the data to learn that humpbacks:

  • Mature no earlier than four years of age
  • May have calves every two years
  • Travel to the Caribbean in winter to mate and give birth
  • Appear to return to the same northern feeding area each summer

For more information about how to participate in the CARIB Tails program visit www.caribtails.org.

Easy Steps that Make a Difference
Boaters can easily make a difference to create a positive future for the ocean by following several steps.

More about the Ocean Watch Essay Program
The Ocean Watch Essay program, a free online resource accessible through the Sailors for the Sea website, provides a constant stream of updated articles on current ocean issues such as ocean acidification, plastics, nonpoint source pollution, and invasive species. Each essay is accompanied by information on how individuals can make a difference in relation to the issue, creating a linkage from knowledge to personal action. Whenever possible, the program also provides information about activities, events, and opportunities, such as lectures, classes, and beach and ocean water clean ups, for people to take action to preserve, protect, and improve the health of the ocean and coastal waters. To see the entire library of Ocean Watch Essays visit http://www.sailorsforthesea.org/resources/ocean-watch-essays.

About Sailors for the Sea
Founded in 2004, Sailors for the Sea is a nonprofit organization that educates and engages the boating community in the worldwide protection of the oceans. For more information on or to participate in any of the Sailors for the Sea programs, or to support the organization, visit www.sailorsforthesea.org.