CARIB Tails is enlisting yachters and cruisers to help track the movements of humpback whales between their North Atlantic feeding grounds and their breeding grounds in the Wider Caribbean Region. Citizen scientists have the opportunity to take on a special role to assist research, by photographing the distinct patterns on the tails of humpback whales in their Caribbean breeding grounds. All that is needed is a camera and knowledge of safe boating around whales.
The information submitted will be used in mark-recapture studies (i.e. photo-identification) to help monitor the recovery of this endangered species. When new photographs of humpback tail flukes are received, they are matched against the 8,000+ photographs in the existing North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. These data can reveal the milestones of an animal’s life. For example, photo ID helps unravel the structure of families and provides clues to population numbers. The study of a female whale over many years can reveal her age at first reproduction, the number of calves she bore, her age when she experienced reproductive decline, and ultimately her lifespan. This information helps advance understanding of marine mammal conservation and the vital need of habitat protection beyond national borders.
Launched in January 2014, CARIB Tails is an international research collaboration between NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme. In the first year of the program, tail fluke analysis suggested that West Indies humpback whales comprise more than one breeding population, contrary to our current understanding. Yachter's contributions of tail fluke photographs, especially from the under-surveyed areas of the Eastern Caribbean, are critical for conservation efforts for our international travelers.