The humpback whale, possibly the most iconic of all species of cetacean, is the subject of this blog for the month of June! And the timing couldn’t be better. Work just published by Dr Christian Ramp and colleagues of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study group shows that female humpback whales develop friendships that can last over many years. The researchers have been studying whales in the Gulf of St Lawrence since 1997 and using photo-identification catalogues going back over 30 years, they have shown that the same female humpback whales reunite each year, having spent the rest of the year apart migrating and breeding. Somehow, each summer, individual females find each other again in the open ocean, and then spend the season together, feeding. The longest recorded friendships lasted six years, and always occurred between similar-aged females!!
Only weeks before, during a conference in Helsinki, Finland, experts covering various disciplines ranging from behavioural science to philosophy and international law addressed the question of whether whales and dolphins should be considered as non-human persons and granted special status. They discussed the increasing body of scientific evidence with respect to cetaceans, including emergent understanding of self-awareness, abstract thought and cultural complexity and concluded that all whales and dolphins have the right to life, liberty and well-being and established a “Declaration on Rights of whales and dolphins”.
So it all sounds like great news right? Wrong! June also heralds the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) where humpbacks are once again back on the wish-list of whalers in Greenland and Japan. Despite not fulfilling their quotas of other species, both want to target the humpback, a species that has just been shown to exhibit strong social bonds. In the past over 100,000 humpback whales were killed and their numbers may only just be recovering, despite being listed as of “Least Concern” by the IUCN. Despite there being several different populations of humpback whales throughout the world’s oceans, there are currently no recognised sub-species, although the population in the Arabian Sea is non-migratory and has been shown to be isolated from populations in the southern Indian Ocean. In the coming weeks we’ll hear from humpback whale researchers around the world, as they share their work with us! During this time we’ll also learn the fate of the species at the hands of the IWC.
Be sure to keep up to date with everything going on over there in Agadir by checking out WDCS frontline blog and to read more and find out how you can help visit our Whaling site.
More from our humpback whale researchers soon …. !!