Where When How — March/April 2017
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Whale Research Salt Cay
Dr. Mithiriel Mackay

VISITING RESEARCHERS STUDY WHALES, TURTLES AND MARINE ECOSYSTEMS IN THE TCI

The Marine and Coastal Ecology Research Centre (MCERC) is spending this winter in TCI, stationed at Salt Cay, with a goal of studying whales, turtles, and other “megafauna” (large animals). The international team of researchers includes Dr. Mithriel MacKay and seven Research Assistants with experience in marine biology investigations and education programs. Dr. MacKay has been studying humpback whales wintering off Puerto Rico, and is now initiating a similar study in the TCI to better understand whale behaviours among whales wintering around the islands.

The team is gathering information about large organisms and will publish the results in the scientific community forums. Although the focal projects are humpback whales and expanding the DECR’s sea turtle studies to Salt Cay, the science team will provide other researchers with data for projects that have been started prior to their arrival, helping to advance the scope of the studies already in progress. MCERC shares the opinion of many scientists, that cooperation with other researchers is the best way to advance knowledge.

In addition to studying whale behaviours, the goal is to understand current whale watch practices in the TCI. Humpback whales are known to migrate to this area each winter from feeding grounds in the north. Their time in the warmer waters of the West Indies is spent calving and breeding. The reason humpback whales migrate to lower latitudes for breeding and calving is still unknown. Occurrence patterns, when and where whales move in the study area, is an important link to understanding how whales fit into the big picture of marine and coastal habitats (the “ecology”). Every piece of information leads us closer to understanding the local and global ocean dynamics. The team will be sharing this information with tour operators and management entities with an interest in creating a long lasting, well designed opportunity for residents and guests to enjoy encounters with whales. Interns will arrive weekly throughout the winter and participate in objective studies of whales during whale watch tours originating from Salt Cay. Education programs for residents and visitors are being provided free through gatherings led by the science team, and will continue throughout the winter months when whales are in the area.

Citizen Science, the term used to include information provided by interested people who share their experiences through photos and other information, is now recognised as a valuable source of data. Your photos of whales, information on sightings and behaviours, and other knowledge, can add detail to research efforts. MCERC will always credit the photographer when you contribute your images, and photos from previous years are important contributions. If you are willing to share your images, please contact Dr. MacKay by email (below) or message on our MCERC Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/researchcenter). Images of humpback whales’ flukes (the underside of their tail) will be submitted to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog for matching with other whales photographed throughout the entire ocean. If your image gets a match, the science team will announce your photo and the match on all of their websites with credit to the photographer.

Dr. MacKay is bringing attention to the TCI through education and research. The group of scientists that study whales communicate with each other often, and the world is already waiting to see what the TCI will reveal about our beautiful waters.

Story and Photo by Dr. Mithriel MacKay

The Marine and Coastal Ecology Research Center (MCERC)

MCERC.mail@gmail.com

Facebook: @researchcenter
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