By Nancy Acton , Royal Gazette, 6 Jul 2007
| Then...: This 1978 photograph of a humpback whale's fluke was taken off South Baccalieu lighthouse in Newfoundland by Professor Hal Whitehead. This Spring, Bermudian author and photographer Andrew Stephenson, captured the same whale in local waters during its annual migration from the Caribbean to the North Atlantic. |
| And now ... a perfect match: The fluke of the same humpback whale, photographed 29 years later in local waters by Bermudian Andrew Stevenson, has been positively identified from among 5,600 images in the Allied Whale catalogue. Fluke markings are as individual as finger prints. |
When author and photographer Andrew Stevenson embarked on his current project of making a 50-minute documentary on humpback whales during their annual migration through Bermuda waters, the “script” included recording such details as the mammals’ behaviour, markings and size. Little did he imagine, however, just how important his early footage would be in terms of scientific research.
First came more indications that the starving whales were actually feeding here on their way from the Caribbean to the North Atlantic. Although Teddy Tucker, Dr. Steven Katona and Dr. Greg Stone had written scientific papers indicating that the humpback whales feed here, there was scepticism that the requisite krill were not present in local waters, although local fishermen told Mr. Stevenson otherwise.
Next came positive identification of Whale No. 1061 by researcher Rosemary Seton of the College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale Marine Mammal Research Lab, who matched Mr. Stevenson’s photograph of its fluke, taken at Challenger Banks in April this year, with a 1978 photograph in the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue — no mean feat, considering the reference tome contains some 5,600 individual flukes.
Along with that identification, Mr. Stevenson was delighted to learn that No. 1061 was actually at least 30 years old, and its migratory movements had been tracked for some years.
“What a wonderful thing to know the history behind this whale,” he said at the time.
For many, this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but good fortune was to decree otherwise.
Recently, Mr. Stevenson visited the Whale Marine Mammal Research Laboratory at Atlantic College in Bar Harbour, Maine for discussions on his project, and also to gather invaluable scientific information.
He emerged from “two fantastic days” with more exciting news and developments than he would ever have thought possible.
Not only was he offered an array of scientific possibilities, but also he came away with positive identification of yet another humpback whale which he had also photographed earlier this year.
Mr. Stevenson takes up the story.