Citizen scientists are sharing images of humpback whales in the waters off The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) exclusively with The Marine and Coastal Ecology Research Center (MCERC). The images are contributing to the The Turks and Caicos Islands Humpback Whale Research Project, initiated in 2017 as an extension of the Puerto Rico Humpback Whale Project which was initiated in 2009 and the MCERC Humpback Whale Project (Megaptera novaeangliae) which includes data from both areas in the Caribbean Sea.
Early analysis of the MCERC data suggests humpback whales are “just passing through” the TCI as a route of direct travel for many humpback whales wintering in the Caribbean Sea as they move south at the start of each winter and travel back to the northern feeding grounds by the end of each winter. Whales are most often observed traveling, with the exception may be some mothers with newborn calves who appear to stay longer longer among the islands resting.
Whale Watching in the TCI often includes in-water encounters with humpback whales. Guests aboard these vessels are transported offshore and snorkel with groups of whales if the seas are calm and the whales are resting or singing. MCERC is investigating the dynamics of the whale watching industry which is comprised of small businesses dependent on tourism in the context of the observed behaviors of whales and other marine megafauna (dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks). Guests and operators are active participants in this research. Images are submitted to the MCERC science team via a FaceBook page which also serves as a place for people interested in the whales off the TCI to see current activity within the archipelago.
Images are added to the MCERC database, the Happy Whale catalog, and Allied Whale catalogs where they are matched to photos submitted by all contributors. The collaboration between all the organizations and citizens involved are included in the analysis towards a better understanding of humpback whale life history. MCERC has been collecting data off Puerto Rico since 2009 and now adds the images and video from the TCI to expand the scope of the study and allow for comparisons between the two locations. The generous contributions made exclusively to this project are enabling MCERC’s senior science staff to answer questions about humpback whales’ life history on the breeding and calving areas in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Whether you are interested in following the Turks and Caicos Humpback Whale Project, the Puerto Rico Humpback Whale Project, or want to contribute images to the MCERC catalog, you can follow this project on on FaceBook by liking the Turks and Caicos Islands Humpback Whale Sightings Page!
The MCERC Education Hub conducts programs around the globe, including the Humpback Whale Field Intensive Program. If you would like more information about joining our team in the field for day excursions, kayaking trips, research programs, and workshops, please browse the MCERC Education Hub for opportunities to suit your interest.
MCERC has three citizen science programs with dedicated FaceBook pages. These pages are where people follow the contributions and hear about the matches very quickly. All photographs remain the property of the photographer, have granted MCERC exclusive rights to be used for research and education, and are submitted to the larger catalogs by MCERC scientists on behalf of the photographers.
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