To the casual observer it may seem as though humpback whales have suddenly appeared in numbers in local waters. This is another sign of June, as these seasonal migrants have returned from their breeding grounds in the Caribbean with new calves in tow.
Dr. Jooke Robbins, Director of Humpback Whale Research at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, says the whales are drawn here each summer to feed.
Humpbacks are the whale species most easily recognizable to humans as individuals. This is crucial to the research of scientists, according to Robbins. "Basically, as we go out on the water, we know every single whale," Robbins says. "So from Nantucket all the way to Nova Scotia, across that range, on our boat, we recognize the individuals that we see, as we see them. And that helps us to determine exactly what data we're going to collect."
The Gulf of Maine is part-time home to about one thousand humpback whales.
"There are individuals that are out there now, we saw them [as calves] when they had just returned back from the Caribbean with their mothers," Robbins says. "And we've followed them each year, time after time. We've seen how their behavior develops. We've included them in different aspects of our research. In doing that, they themselves are teaching us things about humpback whales. Given that it's all individually based, it adds just a certain other kind of specialness to the work we do."
Researchers are still uncertain how long humpback whales live, but Robbins says they suspect it is on the order of a human lifespan.
The Center for Coastal Studies updates a page of latest sightings for humpback whales here.
Listen to this interview in the audio above.