Humpback Whale Research Project

Humpback whaleThe Marine and Coastal Ecology Research Center’s focal project investigates humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) wintering off Puerto Rico. Humpbacks migrate from North Atlantic feeding grounds aggregating in lower latitudes with the majority of individuals off Dominican Republic. Fewer individuals migrate further south to areas including coastal Puerto Rico.

The principal investigator for this project is Mithriel MacKay, a PhD candidate working with Dr. Bernd Würsig at Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Marine Mammal Behavioral Ecology Group. Research platforms include land, boat, and aerial observations aimed at characterizing occupancy, movement, and habitat use in waters off Puerto Rico. 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 singletons, mothers and calves. The collaboration of the research team with volunteers enables a broader scope of coverage along the Puerto Rican coastline and smaller, off shore 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 the smaller aggregation off Puerto Rico with the larger breeding group off 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 for future graduate student research to help understand the connectivity of the Caribbean ecosystems to the larger dynamics of the North Atlantic Ocean.