Whales and dolphins don’t understand boundaries or frontiers. Some of the animals we sight here in the Azores have travelled thousands of kilometres from other parts of the Ocean. Some of the whales we see undertake some of the most extraordinary migrations on Earth, and we are lucky enough to sight them in our waters at some point on their routes. However, in spite of being the most charismatic and emblematic animals of the oceans, their migrations are still not well known.
For over 10 years Futurismo has been collecting useful scientific data during whale watching trips. As you may imagine, over this decade we have taken thousands of photographs of thousands of different cetaceans, and only a small part of all of them have been identified by our biologists and / or by other scientists.
One of the species we work actively is the humpback whale. Humpback whales are sighted every year, but usually not as often as other baleen whales around our waters. In 2020, we have had big surprises already with these giants passing by since the beginning of the year. Until now, with the photos we have taken both from whale watching trips in São Miguel Island and in Pico Island over the years, Futurismo has identified one hundred and three humpback whales. In order to understand more about them, we have joined our forces to an Atlantic network of humpback whale scientists, sharing our photos and data every time we see a humpback whale around. With this network, matches are found all over the Atlantic, from as distant places as Norway, Iceland, Cape Verde, Caribbean, Canaries, or of course, Azores. It is not an easy task, as photos of the same animal can be taken years apart, meaning that probably new scars or marks appeared on the animals, making their identification more difficult. However, the expert eye of the humpback whale researchers manages to make really amazing matches with the photos shared. Just to have an idea, the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue counts nowadays with nearly 11000 individual flukes photographed all over the North Atlantic.
And you may wonder now… where are the humpback whales sighted in the Azores coming from? Or going to? Well…, as far as we know, some of them are travelling from/to Cape Verde, a well-known breeding area for this species (Wenzel et al., 2020). Some others might be travelling from Norway to the Caribbean, as shown by the satellite tracks recorded by researchers from the Arctic University of Norway (https://whaletracking2018.uit.no/). Or even, some exceptional ones, could be on route to Newfoundland, where just one match has been found with the Azores (https://www.coa.edu/allied-whale/).
We know that humpback whales will pass by our door. Wish them good luck on their journeys and hope to see them (and photograph them) soon!
Written by Laura González