Cape Verde Expedition 2011...FINAL UPDATE

20th May 2011 20 May 2011

From day one of the expedition, I was concerned that the whales might head back north weeks before we would on 18 May. And so a pace was set for fieldwork that I had no intention of maintaining! However we encountered whales right up to the final day so it was a 6 week fieldwork marathon, with 12 days in a row at one point. But don't get me wrong- I enjoyed every second of it!


The whale orignally named 'Nick' (given his distinctively nicked dorsal fin) lob-tailing. Photo by Simon Berrow

During the final week, we recorded singing males and tracked a group of 6, possibly 7 whales which included a mother and a large calf. Among this group was a whale with a stunning all-black tail-fluke. It turns out that this animal (probably a male given it was breaching and lob-tailing... but genetics will confirm or deny this!) was also photographed in Boa vista 9 years ago back in 2002.

Another whale among this group was previously observed in Bear Island, Norway in 1995, Boa Vista in 2008 and now once again in Boa Vista in 2011. The process of matching photo ID images taken during the expedition is ongoing so I will report any other interesting matches here as they emerge. There has yet to be a match between an Irish and a Cape Verdean humpback, but maybe in time...



An all-black tail fluke, assigned #4960 in the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. Photo by Simon Berrow

During the 1990's and early 2000's over 4000 humpbacks were biopsied in the North Atlanitc under projects YONAH (Years of the North Atlantic Humpback whales) and MONAH. Sampling locations included the West Indies, Gulf of Maine, Greenland and Iceland, but not Cape Verde. In collaboration with international whale geneticists, DNA analyses will be carried out on our samples to determine if the Cape Verdean humpbacks constitute a relict and distinct population; whether they are reproductively isolated from those in the larger West Indies breeding ground.

We collected 28 biopsies, recorded 150 minutes of whale song and took 63 fluke images of over 30 individual whales. This undoubtedly represents the most intensive and productive humpback research effort in Cape Verde to date. The success of this year's expedition was down to the local knowledge and generous help from the friendly folks at Natura Cape Verde in Sal Rei, Boa Vista, most notably Pedrin. As they gear up for their busy turtle nest monitoring season, plans are already being hatched to run another whale research expedition in 2012. It is an exciting time and IWDG is a key player in piecing together this complex puzzle: the last secrets of the North Atlantic humpback whale migration. Many thanks to the generous donations from IWDG members and to the Island Foundation in the USA for funding.

Conor Ryan

14 May 2011

It was a bit risky arriving towards the end of the humpback whale season in Cape Verde and only for a week, but I thought it was worth it, if only to meet up with Pedrin and Natura in Boavista and see how the island had developed. I secretly hoped I would be able to get out on the water and be amongst whales, but knowing the conditions out here, I kept my expectations low.

But, what a great week. Pedrin, Elena and the gang at Natura, an NGO set up largely to study and conserve the loggerhead and other turtles nesting on Boavista, have been so welcoming and have made our great success possible. Conor and Pedrin secured the services of Felix and his 5m RIB, the only RIB available in Boavista, and with the aid of the new whalewatching vessels down here, have located so many wha