Humpbacks in the Caribbean

From: Jennifer Philips (
Date: Thu Jan 31 2002 - 14:16:28 EST

Hi Jen Philips!

I got your email from the WhaleNet A.S.K. a Scientist web site.
Congratulations on your appointment.

I write because I'm traveling to the Turks and Caicos this February and have
been frantically looking for info on Humpbacks near Grand Turk. I'm really
hoping to dive or snorkel with them, and I would like some info before
going. If you are aware of any papers, books, dissertations, or researchers
which/who focus on Humpbacks in this region, I would greatly appreciate the

Thank you and good luck with the Ph.D.
Adrienne Paule


One group of researchers working with the humpbacks in the Western Atlantic
(including in the Caribbean, a bit), are D(avid?) Mattila and Phil Clapham.
I've pasted a couple of their abstracts below. As far as the occurrences of
humpbacks around the Turks and Caicos, I suggest locating a whale watching
operation down there for their input. Whales migrate to their southern
locations during winter, so this is the perfect time of year to see them
there. Here is one link I found listing some of the operations you might

Good luck and enjoy your trip!
Jen Philips

1994. Mattila,DK, Clapham,PJ, Vasquez,O, Bowman,RS. "Occurrence, population
composition and habitat use of humpback whales in Samana Bay, Dominican
Republic" Canadian Journal of Zoology. 72:1898-1907.
A study of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) was conducted between
1988 and 1991 in Samana Bay, Dominican Republic. Humpbacks were observed as
early as the earliest survey (3 January) and as late as the latest (16
March). Local abundance varied from 0 whales per hour to a maximum of 3.2
whales per hour (mean = 1.70, SD = 0.79), and densities calculated from
track surveys ranged from 0.09 to 0.82 whales per square nautical mile (mean
= 0.31). Abundance generally peaked in February, but variation was observed
both within a season and between years. Almost all whales were observed in
the eastern part of the bay, towards or at its mouth.

In all, 397 individuals were photographically identified during the study
period. Of these, 18 were observed in more than 1 year (17 in 2 years, I in
3 years). A total of 15.8% of identified individuals were observed on more
than 1 day in a year (maximum 5 days), with mothers representing 33.3 % of
all resightings. Observed occupancies of resighted animals ranged from 1 to
33 days (mean = 6.3 days, SD = 7.14). The mean group size was 1.95 (range =
I - 15, SD = 1.30, n = 652 groups). Ninety-nine groups contained a calf, and
all -groups larger than three (n = 45) were competitive in nature.
Comparisons of fluke photographs with the North Atlantic Humpback Whale
Catalogue revealed 141 matches of 118 individuals to other areas. Of these,
76 were to high-latitude feeding grounds (including the Gulf of Maine,
Newfoundland, Labrador, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and west Greenland), while
the remaining 65 were to other areas of the West Indies (Silver Bank,
Navidad Bank, Puerto Rico, Virgin Bank, or Anguilla Bank) or to Bermuda. We
suggest that Samana Bay is one of the most important winter habitats in the
West Indies for humpback whales from all over the western North Atlantic,
although whaling records suguest that the abundance of whales in this area
may be a relatively recent phenomenon. Sightings of other marine mammal
species in Samana Bay are summarized.

1999. Mattila, D. K., J. Robbins, P.J. Clapham and P.J. Palsboll. Age,
feeding ground origin and behavior of West Indies humpback whales, Megaptera
novaeangliae. Abstract in the proceedings of the 13th Biennial Conference on
the Biology of Marine Mammals. Maui, Hawaii. November 27 - December 3.

Age, feeding ground origin and exchange between behavioral roles were
examined on the West Indies wintering grounds for insight into the relative
importance of presumed reproductive behaviors. During the two-year YONAH
project, large photographic and genetic samples were collected throughout
the North Atlantic using standardized methodologies. Data were correlated
with behavioral observations in the West Indies and our long-term life
history database from the Gulf of Maine (871 individuals, 224 known age).
The age composition of the breeding aggregation was examined using 97
matches to catalogued Gulf of Maine whales. Eighty-two animals were
sexually mature, nine were juveniles and six were of unknown maturational
class. The average age of West Indies whales was significantly older than
the YONAH sample in the Gulf of Maine. Among mature males, age did not vary
significantly across behavioral roles, including within competitive groups,
single escorts to mothers, singletons and pairs. Only one
confirmed singer was of known age; however, exchange of 82 males between
175 roles during the same season also provided little evidence of a
role-based hierarchy. Only escorts (n=19) to mothers were resighted in the
same role more often than expected. As no females in our sample gave birth
in consecutive years, a consistent preference to associate with mothers
should reduce the likelihood of successful reproduction even more than
previously supposed. In fact, when the high latitude origin of both animals
was known, pairs without calves were from mixed feeding grounds (n=4), while
escorts and the mothers they accompanied hailed from the same feeding ground
(n=4). As males were not the father of the calves they
escorted, our findings sugges a non-reproductive function. Additional data
on the behavior and reproductive status of females in competitive groups
sheds light on the function of these groups.

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