Carib Tails, a new international citizen science effort, is enlisting cruisers to help scientists track the movements of endangered humpback whales between NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and its sister sanctuaries across the Caribbean.
Partnering with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Carib Tails involves the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic, Agoa Marine Mammal Sanctuary/French Antilles, Bermuda Marine Mammal Sanctuary, the marine mammal sanctuaries of the Windward and Leeward Dutch Antilles, and the United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme’s Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Programme (UNEP/SPAW).
When humpbacks dive after breeching they often they often raise the end of their tails into the air, exposing the underside or fluke. Each fluke is unique, featuring a range of Scars and natural pigmentation, ranging from all white to all black, along with the scalloped shaped edge of the tail. By photographing whale flukes, researchers have been able to use flukes like fingerprints to identify and track individual whales since the 1970s.
By photographing the flukes of humpbacks cruisers encounter a sea; boaters can support on-going research to collect migration data on the shared population of approximately 1,000 humpbacks. Photographs will be matched to entries in the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog and images of previously unknown/un-photographed whales will be added to the collection.
“Whales follow long-distance courses that take them to destinations similarly favored by yachters,” said Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, UNEP/SPAW program director. “For the ocean lovers among us, what better way to respect the marine environment and add value to your travels than by becoming a citizen scientist?”
Founded in 2007, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 842 square miles of ocean, stretching between Cape Ann and Cape Cod offshore of Massachusetts. Renowned for its biological diversity and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary is famous as a whale-watching destination and supports a rich assortment of marine life, including marine mammals, seabirds, fishes and marine invertebrates.
“Salt,” the sanctuary’s most well known whale and a mother of 12, was the first East Coast humpback to be named and the first of the sanctuary’s whales to be identified off the Dominican Republic.
“The story of Salt is one example of the power of collaborative science,” said Craig MacDonald, Stellwagen sanctuary superintendent. “Carib Tails is an exciting opportunity for citizen scientists to help expand and enrich our understanding of how this charismatic species connects us to our Caribbean counterparts.”
Along with offering cruisers to contribute to the effort, Carib Tails is also stressing the importance of safe boating and viewing practices when around marine mammals. In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, cruisers must reduce speed and remember not to intentionally approach within 100 yards of the animals. A violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act or the Endangered Species Act may result in fines or civil penalties of up to $10,000 or criminal penalties of up to $20,000 plus imprisonment and/or seizure of vessel and other personal property.
For photo submission forms and more information about how to help the Carib Tails effort, visit their website at www.caribtails.com.