It’s a Girl! “Lucky” the Humpback Whale

Here’s another story of a survivor. It’s an update that will likely be of great interest as Lucky is one of the most easily identifiable Humpbacks in our study area. 

The latest that we can confirm, thanks to the photo below from Kurt Staples of Eagle Eye Adventures, is that Lucky is female.

But before we explain that, let us give you some of her backstory. 

Lucky? One thing that clearly makes her so easy to identify is the scarring on her tail. In this case, her misshapen tail with all scars is not the result of entanglement or vessel strike. Lucky is the survivor of an attack by Killer Whales / Orca. This attack happened well before she was first documented in 2012. 

MERS catalogue photos for Lucky. Catalogue is available at this link.

How do we know that? Because the spacing between the rake marks is wider than than the spaces between Killer Whales’ teeth i.e. the scars grew further apart as Lucky’s tail grew. Note that there has never been a confirmed case of Bigg’s Killer Whales (mammal-eating population) killing a larger Humpback but Lucky, who was attacked as a calf, is . . . lucky to be alive.

This very fitting nickname was put forward by Leah Robinson of OrcaLab who was the first to document Lucky back on November 14th, 2012. 

The other thing that makes Lucky more easy to ID as an individual is that she is the Humpback Whale in our study area that almost exclusively solo bubble-net feeds, using a net of bubbles to coral juvenile herring. For clarity: she is not the only one that uses this feeding strategy in the area but she IS the one that appears to do so almost exclusively

The other Humpback Whales primarily lunge-feed (with some individuals also occasionally trap-feeding and/or solo bubble net-feeding). Note that Humpbacks on other parts of our coast (British Columbia’s central coast, north to Alaska) are specialists in bubble-net feeding as a team but this is not a good strategy in an area with a lot of current since the bubbles will not remain intact. .

Since 2012, Lucky has very predictably been seen solo bubble-net feeding around NE Vancouver Island in back-eddies or on slack tide i.e. where/when the bubbles cannot be blasted away by current. She has also occasionally been sighted further to the south near Campbell River (this is where Kurt photographed her). 

The wonderful video below of Lucky solo  bubble net-feeding is from another of our OrcaLab colleagues, Megan Hockin-Bennett / Wild Sky Productions

And now – how can we now confirm Lucky is female?
Without DNA testing or the presence of a calf, it is very difficult to discern gender in Humpbacks. They do not have gender differences that can be easily seen. 
We have to get a look at their undersides and this opportunity does not present itself very often. Even when Humpbacks clear the water when they breach, the pelvic area is difficult to see because it is most often covered by water. See photo below. 
KC the Humpback breaching which shows how the pelvic area cannot be seen because of the “skirt” of water.

This is why we get very excited when Humpbacks lie on their backs and “tail-lob”. THEN, if the whale’s tail is far enough out of the water, the pelvic area is visible.

The females have a small feature known as the “hemispherical lobe”. Males do not. See below (click image to enlarge). 

In this story about Lucky, you’ll note again how the knowledge we have about a whale is so often the result of a  community of data contributors. We can put the pieces of the puzzle together but  could not do it without this community and the further support of many. Thank you.


Note that Lucky’s temporary catalogue ID is “BCZuk2012#3”. We are working with colleagues to update the province-wide catalogue for Humpbacks sighted off the coast of British Columbia (which was maintained by Fisheries and Oceans Canada but has not been updated since 2010). Once we have finished the matching work involved with this, Lucky will get a permanent catalogue number in the province-wide catalogue.

Gifts That Keep On Giving

It’s Giving Tuesday, and we’re hoping you’ll consider us in decisions around gift-giving and year-end donations.

Below we provide detail on 3 ways through which your support also leads to meaningful gifts for loved ones.

  1. Honorary donation – Note that MERS is a registered Canadian charity whereby donations are tax deductible.
  2. Sponsor a Humpback
  3. Sponsor a sign to reduce risk to whales

Please know that we could not achieve what we do without you . . . our work to understand and reduce risks to whales . . . the entanglement and feeding research, the education regarding how to reduce risk of collision and what to do if entanglement is witnessed, and our marine wildlife rescue efforts.

It’s because of people like you, that our small team can achieve what we do. For a summary of our work achieved in 2018, please click here. 


1. Make an Honorary Donation

When you indicate your donation to MERS is  a gift, we’ll send your giftee a message revealing your thoughtfulness and what work the donation supports. Oh, and YOU get a Canadian tax receipt.

Please click here to make a donation. 

Know that monthly donations are especially  valuable as they provide an indication of how many people see the value of our work and are committed to supporting it. These reoccurring donations are reliable income thereby allowing more effective planning and budgeting and being able to indicate in-kind support when applying for grants.

All contributions directly support our research, education, and marine wildlife response activities.


2. Sponsor a Humpback

For just $43 we will send a Humpback Whale sponsorship package with a personalized message to the gift recipient. The package includes a card featuring a photo of your chosen whale; a USB stick with a biography of your whale with photos and recordings of Humpback vocals; AND you and the giftee will receive at least two email updates every year about the sponsored whale. Yes, that’s right, there are no renewal fees.  Click here for details and during checkout indicate that the sponsorship is a gift. We will then contact you about personalizing the letter that accompanies the sponsorship package.

mers-poster-5-whales-2016



3. Sponsor a Sign?

We are striving to have “See a Blow? Go Slow!” signs all along BC’s coast to reduce the risk of collision for the sake of both boater and whale safety. This is essential now that Humpback Whales have thankfully returned from the brink of extinction and because they behave very differently from whales like Orca that boaters are more used to seeing on our coast. The awareness of how to reduce the risk of hitting a Humpback serves the other whale species well too. Signs costs approximately $70 each  (price depends on shipping costs) and the sign would include the name of your gift recipient (or the logo of your choosing). Please see example below.

A donation can be given in the amount of the sign’s value leading to your getting a tax receipt. See below and contact info@mersociety.org to discuss dedication and confirm price. Signs are made of super durable dibond with dimensions 18.5″ x 24″ (~47 cm x 61 cm).

Example of a sponsored sign in Comox, made possible by
Example of a sponsored sign in Comox, made possible by the Flying Dragons Dragon Boat Team. 

Thank you for considering MERS in your gift-giving and donations. 

Any questions? Please contact us via this link. 

 

Three Generations of Humpbacks Documented!

Three generations of Humpback Whales have now been documented!

This is such an indication of the great collaborative effort in studying the fortunate return of Humpback Whales off British Columbia’s coast, and its importance.
Calf:
Alethea Leddy was the first to document Apollo with a calf, now nicknamed Nova. Alethea’s photos from June 18th near Race Rocks even allowed us to determine that the calf is male. The calf had been lying on his back tail-lobbing whereby the pelvic area could be seen. See Aletha’s photo at the end of this blog that allowed determination of Nova’s gender. For detail on gender determination in Humpbacks, click here for our blog on the subject. 

Mother:
We know that Apollo was born in 2010 to Horizon but did not know her gender before now.

Grandmother:
We first documented Horizon in 2004 when she was already at least subadult. Apollo is her first known calf. We documented a second calf in 2013 and have not had re-sightings of this whale.

Importance:
Calves only stay with their mothers for a year. Having these solid ID photos allows us to ID them in future. Because the calves often lose a lot of the white pigmentation in their tails as they age, It is particularly helpful to also have photos showing both sides of the dorsal fin and the trailing edge of the tail. Being able to study whales as individuals allows us to have data informing everything from age of first calving (varies per population), to life expectancy, to social associations, to how the whales use the coast.

The nicknames:
Humpbacks are nicknamed for distinctive features so that it is easier to recognize them as individuals. Horizon has horizontal lines on her tail. The markings on Apollo’s tail suggest planets. And, while some of the white will likely disappear on the calf’s tail, there is a distinctive line and a moon-shaped bump that will likely stay. Thereby, Alethea suggested Nova, also keeping with the celestial theme of these 3 generations of whales.

To make the point again that it takes a dedicated community to study giants, below are the names of all those who have contributed sightings of these 3 whales (outside of our direct MERS team). This includes naturalists, captains and guest of at least 9 ecotourism companies as well as our research colleagues:
Jarret Morton, Alexandra Morton, Marilia Olio, Tasli Shaw, Mark Malleson, Gary Sutton, Jos Krynen, Amber Stroeder, Kaitlin Paquette, Johanna Ferrie, Eiko Jones, Peter Hamilton, Leif Nordman, Shea Majbroda, Michelle Mercer, Chloé Warren, Jennie Leaver, Jeff Aoki, Carmen Pen, Alison Ogilvie, Geoff Dunstan, Roger McDonell, Franz Plangger, April Macleod, Jim Borrowman, Jess Fargher, Maureen Towers, Dave Towers, Sophia Merritt, Kyle Kermode, Inge van der Wulp, Shea Majbroda, Jan Kees, Humpbacks of the Salish Sea, Keta Coastal Conservation.

For detail on gender determination in Humpbacks, click here for our blog on this subject.

See this link to purchase a MERS Humpback Whale Catalogue (PDF) for whales documented from the northern Strait of Georgia to the northern end of Goletas Channel. Updated PDF provided annually at no extra charge. 

We’re Hiring! MERS Data Analyst

Job Posting
Marine Education and Research Society
Summer Student Position: Data Analyst  

The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research, environmental education, and marine wildlife response.  We are based on NE Vancouver Island. For information about MERS’ research, education and wildlife response efforts, see www.mersociety.org.

The Data Analyst will be involved in MERS’ efforts to study and protect marine mammals in British Columbia, with a focus on consolidating Humpback Whale sighting and photo-identification data as part of a province-wide project to better understand this population. This Humpback Whale study is a collaborative, coast-wide effort that will allow for enhanced knowledge of the abundance, habitat use, social associations, movements, and threats of Humpbacks in B.C., for the purposes of conservation.

Duties will include:

  1. Conducting comparative analysis of Humpback Whale catalogues to determine the identifications of individual whales.
  2. Data entry and database management for Humpback Whale sighting and photographic data.
  3. Assisting in supervising volunteers during data entry and photographic data analysis in order to maintain the quality of the MERS databases.
  4. Aiding in MERS’ work to serve as a resource to media and the local community (with a focus on local ecotourism operators) in order to enhance the economics/value of wildlife viewing experiences.
  5. Helping to develop resources to reduce threats to whales and, thereby, increase the sustainability of ecotourism in the region.
  6. Other office-based work as needed.This is an office-based position but there may also be some opportunities for the Data Analyst to accompany MERS researchers on boat-based surveys to collect Humpback Whale photo-identification data.

Successful candidates:

  • Are Canadian or have a Canadian work permit. (Please note: MERS will not be able to assist candidates in obtaining a Canadian work permit).
  • Are students currently enrolled in a full-time post-secondary program, returning to school in the fall of 2018 (funding requirement).
  • Are studying biology, environmental science, resource management or a related field and have knowledge of the biology and ecology of marine mammals in British Columbia.
  • Are between 15-30 years of age (funding requirement).
  • Have strong computer skills. Previous experience with some or all of the following programs an asset: Microsoft Excel, Photo Mechanic, Filemaker, Adobe Lightroom, and QGIS.
  • Work well independently and with minimal supervision.
  • Have experience with data entry.
  • Have exceptional organizational skills.
  • Are able to demonstrate strong abilities in matching whale flukes and fins for identification.

Salary:
$15/hour

Work term:
10-week contract with an anticipated start date of June 18th, 2018

Position location:
Much of the work can be done remotely but, for the purposes of supervision, it is preferred that the Data Analyst is based in Victoria or on NE Vancouver Island.

Application deadline:
May 13, 2018

Application format:
Applications should include a cover letter specifically addressing position requirements, resume, and 3 references (name, position and email address) with a minimum of 2 being employment contacts.   Applications should be emailed to nicole@mersociety.org.

Selection procedure: 

  1. References of short-listed candidates contacted.
  2. Short-listed candidates interviewed via SKYPE.
  3. Final interviews held in person in Vancouver, Victoria or Port McNeill. Candidates will be asked to complete an exercise to assess their ability to match whales IDs.

Please note that only short-listed applicants will be contacted and that this would happen before May 20th.

How to Save a Whale (video)

“How to Save a Whale” is an essential resource on the risks of collision and entanglement. It was made possible by the Sitka Foundation. Please see below for the video and share widely.

With the fortunate increase in the number of Humpback Whales off our coast, it is essential that boaters know more about the risks of collision and entanglement (for the sake of whale AND boater safety).

Our preliminary results, conducted in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), show that over 47% of Humpbacks in British Columbia have scarring that shows they have been entangled (>1,000 Humpbacks). This data provides an indication of how very serious the risk of entanglement is. It does not reveal how many Humpbacks have died as a result of entanglement.


For Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations and key points on how to avoid collision, please see our page www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org. 


Summary of key points on what to do in case you find an entangled whale:

  1. With great urgency, report the entanglement with location. In British Columbia call the DFO Incident Line at  1-800-465-4336. If you do not have cell service, use VHF Channel 16 (Coast Guard).
  2. If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished
  3. Take whatever video/photos are possible but maintain a distance that doesn’t stress the whale.

Why it is so important NOT to attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale:

  1. It risks human and whale safety (has led to human death). Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success.
  2.  Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If members of the public put themselves at risk and remove gear at the surface, they would not help the whale because now it is more difficult to:
    – Recognize that the whale is entangled; and
    – Disentangle the whale even if it is relocated.
    Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers’ ability to save the whale.

 

Whales! Researchers. You? Join us!

There are two opportunities to have the adventure of a lifetime and contribute to our work at the Marine Education and Research Society. We are so grateful to Stubbs Island Whale Watching and Ocean EcoAdventures for making these opportunities possible (September 30 from Cowichan Bay and October 7th from Telegraph Cove).  We’ve tried to give a sense of the wildlife in the fall with the slideshow below. All photos were taken in October.

These are very significant fund-raisers for what we do to reduce risks to whales. They are an opportunity for us as researchers to share our work directly with you and for you to see and learn from the astounding beauty of this coast.

Details for how to sign on for the trips are in the table below. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions at jackie@mersociety.org.

Sponsor Ocean EcoVentures Stubbs Island
Whale Watching
 
Date Saturday September 30th  Saturday October 7th 
Departure Location Cowichan Bay Telegraph Cove
Time 10:00 am to 1:30 pm
Minimum of 3.5 hours
Meet at 09:30
9:00 am to 4:30 pm
Minimum of 7.5 hours
Meet at 08:30
Lunch included No Yes  Generous sponsor  – the Sportsman Restaurant in Port McNeill
Vessel Type Three open vessels (12 passengers each). Two are rigid hull inflatables and one is a hard-sided cruiser. Two have washrooms. One vessel, the MV Lukwa – 18 m closed vessel with washrooms.
See this link. 
Cost per person $130 $225
MERS researchers attending Christie McMillan, Jackie Hildering, Jared Towers.
To reserve a spot Please email jackie@mersociety.org with the names and email addresses of those who will be attending and provide a phone number in case we need to contact you. Reservation secured with one of the payment options below.
Payment options: 1.     E-transfer to mersociety@gmail.com indicating “MERS trip Cowichan Bay”.
Please use password humpback.
2.     Cheque made out to “Marine Education and Research Society” Box 1347, Port McNeill, V0N 2R0 with “MERS trip Cowichan Bay” in the memo line.
1.     E-transfer to mersociety@gmail.com indicating “MERS trip Telegraph Cove”.
Please use password humpback.
2.     Cheque made out to “Marine Education and Research Society” Box 1347, Port McNeill, V0N 2R0 with “MERS trip Telegraph Cove” in the memo line.