Humpback Whale Research Project

Humpback whaleThe Marine and Coastal Ecology Research Center’s focal project investigates humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) wintering off Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean. Humpback whales migrate from the North Atlantic feeding grounds aggregating in lower latitudes with the majority of individuals off the Dominican Republic. Fewer individuals migrate to the low density areas including coastal Puerto Rico, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Antillean Chain.

The principal investigator (Dr. Mithriel MacKay) utilizes research platforms that include land-, vessel-, and aerial-based observations aimed at characterizing occupancy, movement, and habitat use in waters off Puerto Rico and other low density areas. Analysis of data obtained via passive acoustic monitoring (including opportunistic data collected since 2006 in Mona Passage) are suggesting interesting patterns of behaviors in this small fringe population.

The research team consists of the principal investigator, support team (boat captain and experienced naturalists), interns, and students. Colleagues join our research team each winter sharing experience and collaborating with a goal of continuous improvement in data collection, management, and analysis. Volunteers are an important part of support team scanning the coastline for humpback whale groups: singletons, mother-calf pairs and mother-calf- escorts. The collaboration of the research team with volunteers enables a broader scope of coverage along the Puerto Rican coastline and smaller, offshore islands.

MCERC anticipates the Humpback Whale Research Project to continue each winter. Interns and students participating in the field intensive program continue to gather and analyze data in an attempt to explain the relationship between smaller aggregations off Puerto Rico and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the larger breeding group off the Dominican Republic. In addition to the data aimed at understanding the life history of humpback whales, the research team collects opportunistic data of marine mammals and other flora and fauna. The vision for the MCERC research team is for interested investigators to utilize this opportunistic data to help understand the connectivity of the Caribbean ecosystems to the larger dynamics of the North Atlantic Ocean.