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Lights, camera, preservation

Jan 22, 2014

Courtesy The Nature Conservancy

Voyagers from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean are being asked to lend a hand — and their photographs — to help track the comeback of one of the world's most impressive endangered species, the humpback whale.

In this month's Ocean Watch Essay for the nonprofit Sailors for the Sea, Nathalie Ward of NOAA's Stellwegen Bank National Marine Sanctuary urges boaters to brandish their cameras for CARIB Tails, a photo ID program that allows scientists to monitor the recovery of the whales.

New photos of individual tail flukes — revealing unique pigmentation patterns and scars — are added to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue, maintained since 1976 by Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. The database contains photos of more than 7,000 humpbacks, including the date, time and location of the sightings.

Scientists have used the information to help determine that humpbacks mature no earlier than age 4; that they may have calves every two years; that they travel to the Caribbean in the winter to mate and give birth; and that they appear to return to the same feeding area each summer in the Gulf of Maine.

Ward said boaters can play a key role in contributing to the recovery by adding more images of whales that they come across during their Atlantic voyages.

"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,” Ward said.

To learn more about CARIB Tails, click here.

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