Photographs taken by Scottish individuals observing whales are utilized to gather information on the behaviors of these creatures.
Snowy holds the record for being the oldest minke whale in Europe, while Knobble seems to enjoy being in the spotlight – the whale has been seen over 60 times since 2002, mostly near the Isle of Mull.
Images of minke whales contributed by citizens are being released in a digital database, offering valuable information about the at-risk creatures.
The findings, compiled by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, show that over 300 distinct minke whales have been documented in the Hebrides since 1990. One-third (33%) of these have been sighted multiple times.
Dr. Lauren Hartny-Mills, the science and conservation manager for the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, stated that photographs are a valuable resource for enhancing our comprehension of whale behaviors and the dangers they encounter. These images serve as crucial evidence for successful conservation efforts.
Scotland’s west coast seas are an important area for minke whales, which migrate to feed in their rich waters each summer.
Each year, the trust receives a multitude of photos from the public and wildlife-watching crews through a community sightings website and the free Whale Track app. Additionally, volunteers aboard the research yacht Silurian also gather photographs during the trust’s research expeditions.
Scientists then utilize the photographs to search for distinct patterns or characteristics in order to distinguish and categorize individual whales, dolphins, porpoises, and basking sharks observed in the area.
The recently released catalog shows that Snowy, a minke whale, has been sighted in the Hebridean waters for 27 years, making it the longest recorded period for this species in Europe.
Record-breaking Knobble – named after a distinctive small bump on its dorsal fin – has become a local celebrity, starring in a children’s book, a Facebook page and in a song on YouTube. But Knobble’s sex, or where the mammal goes in winter, are still unknown.
Pictures can provide more information about the yearly eating patterns of the whales – and the challenges they confront in seas that are becoming more influenced by human activity. The collection displays markings and wounds on 22% of the captured minke whales, indicating that these animals have been caught in ocean debris and fishing equipment at some point, resulting in issues with movement, harm, and even death. The minke whales observed in Scottish waters are also thought to belong to the same group that is targeted by commercial whalers from Iceland and Norway in more northern regions.
The organization is requesting that the general public share their photographs, both current and past, to aid their researchers in understanding the behaviors, well-being, and dangers faced by whales.
In the last 30 years, Andy Tait, a wildlife guide for Sea Life Mull, has shared numerous photographs.
He expressed joy in submitting his photos to the organization, knowing that each one contributes to our knowledge of remarkable whales like Snowy and Knobble. Through the updated online database, anyone can compare their sightings with known individual whales and potentially even identify a new whale to add to the catalog. This is an example of citizen science that is open to everyone.