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Related Areas of Study

Learning to identify whales, you’ll also learn a lot about yourself. The weather can alternate between mild and freezing, you must eliminate all distractions, and depending on your personality, it’s either lonely or perfect.

Then, movement on the horizon, and we learn that a single whale’s journey could be longer than we thought possible.


First Ireland - Canada humpback re-sighting

IWDG logos

Humpback whales found in Irish waters are known to travel north and south along the eastern North Atlantic, but one whale was unexpectedly found over 3,300 km nearly due west.

On Jan 17th 2010, a humpback whale was observed and reported to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) Sighting Scheme by local IWDG members in inshore waters off Hook Head, County Wexford on the Irish south east coast. Over the following days a team from the IWDG successfully obtained a biopsy sample, under licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and secured photo-identification images. The biopsy confirmed this to be a male, and observations enabled the team to determine that this was a sub-adult specimen. The images of the ventral fluke and dorsal fin confirmed that this was a new humpback whale previously undocumented in Irish waters and so it was added to the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue curated by the IWDG and allocated a unique ID of #HBIRL11. As with all humpbacks photographed in Irish waters, images of this individual were shared with our partners at Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA, who manage the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue (NAHWC) and have a database of 11,000+ individual humpbacks. At the time, this whale was determined to be a new individual for the wider North Atlantic catalogue and was allocated a unique ID of na04753.

Can you spot the points of similarity between the tail fluke and dorsal fin markings on this mont...Can you spot the points of similarity between the tail fluke and dorsal fin markings on this montage below? Over eight years some dark areas of the fluke's ventral surface have brightened and the damage to the dorsal fin has healed considerably (Ireland top, Canada lower).

Can you spot the points of similarity between the tail fluke and dorsal fin markings on this montage below? Over eight years some dark areas of the fluke’s ventral surface have brightened and the damage to the dorsal fin has healed considerably (Ireland top, Canada lower).

Research charters by the IWDG and opportunistic whale watching trips run by Martin Colfer confirmed this whale remained in the area over a 42-day period, with 24 confirmed sightings between January 17th and February 28th, all in the waters adjacent to the Hook Head Peninsula (see sightings map). It was regularly observed feeding on sprat and herring, often in the same area as both fin whales and short-beaked common dolphins.

On one particularly memorable day, we observed it from a distance breaching in the fog and approached it, not knowing that it would still be breaching by the time we were within camera range of it. We estimated that it breached on no less than 45 consecutive occasions, and it was our good fortune that we had a film crew from Crossing the Line Films who captured this spectacular display that later showcased on both national and international television on the RTE Wild Journeys series.

There have been no updates on this individual over the past 13 years, as he has not been recorded in Irish waters since. Of course, this doesn’t mean he hasn’t returned, as it is always possible that his movements could have gone undetected. But if he, like so many other “Irish” humpbacks, was a regular returnee to our shores, then we’d reasonably expect that he’d have been recorded at least occasionally. But that all changed with an email from our colleague Lindsey Jones of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue on February 19th, which gave us the news that this whale was re-sighted in Newfoundland, Canada. This whale had been spotted several times between July 27th and August 18th 2018, and again on June 20th 2021, all around the Bonavista Peninsula of Newfoundland, Canada by Kris and Shawna Prince of Sea of Whales Adventures. Sea of Whales Adventures is a whale watching company based in Trinity, Trinity Bay that tracks whale movements and photographs different species of whales around the Bonavista Peninsula on Newfoundland’s east coast. In addition to their work with humpback whales, this company also does photo-identification work with Orcas and sperm whales. Reg Kempen of Billericay, England is an integral part of Sea of Whales’ photo-identification program as he catalogues their data and submits it to the NAHWC at Allied Whale. The catalogue which he has created with the Princes now includes more than 1400 individual humpback whales.

Humpbacks typically exhibit high site fidelity to the feeding ground their mother brought them to as a calf. To our knowledge, this whale, na04753, was not sighted or photographed as a calf or in any year prior to 2018 in Newfoundland, despite lots of photo-identification effort in the region annually.

Sighting locations of whale na04753 in Ireland in 2010 and Newfoundland in 2018 and 2021. The yel...Sighting locations of whale na04753 in Ireland in 2010 and Newfoundland in 2018 and 2021. The yellow line connecting the sightings is the shortest distance between the points, not the migration route of the whale, which is unknown.

This is an important development, as it is so much more than a first humpback match between Ireland and Canada, it is also the first re-sighting between Ireland/British Isles and the western North Atlantic feeding grounds. The fact that this individual has been recorded in two known feeding areas, Newfoundland (Summer) and Irish South coast (Winter), is noteworthy and might call into question notions that this species remain faithful to one particular feeding area.

We extend a huge thanks to our colleagues at the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Sea of Whales and WhalesNfld.


First match from the Azores to Newfoundland!

The Azores and Newfoundland are not connected by any of the known migration routes for humpback whales, and workers in these areas would not have expected a humpback to travel from one to the other… but one did.

The whale, na04773 in the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog  (  was first seen off the Azores by Nova Atlantis ( It was then seen in Newfoundland waters by Sea of Whales Adventures ( The distance between these locations is a comparable to that from New York to Houston, or London to Istanbul, about 2,500 km (1,500 miles). 

While the Azores are along the mid-Atlantic Ridge, and very much in the middle of the ocean, all previous resightings have been to habitats in the eastern North Atlantic. Similarly, humpback whales from Newfoundland have only previously been seen in habitats much farther to the west.  

Exciting news!

Thanks a lot Zoltan Korai for the great illustration.

First match of a humpback whale from the Azores to Newfoundland, Canada. Illustration: Zoltan KoraiFirst match of a humpback whale from the Azores to Newfoundland, Canada. Illustration: Zoltan Korai


 Long time no see!

On a nice tropical day in late February, Maurina De Wulf went on a whale watching trip from the town of Samana in the Dominican Republic. As a whale enthusiast, Maurina collected fluke photographs of the whales she saw that day and submitted them to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog. One of those whales was just identified as na3044. 

The last time that whale was seen, Jimmy Carter was president, Mount St. Helens had just erupted, and Abba was jockeying with David Bowie at the top of the music charts. 35 years elapsed in between without the whale being sighted. It would be fascinating to know where it has been.

This resighting not only covers many years, but also many miles. The 1980 sighting was made in Bonavista Bay, off the east coast of Newfoundland, about 2,000 miles from the Dominican Republic. That photo was taken by Jon Lien, a pioneer of non-lethal whale study and a great friend and mentor to many of us at the NAHWC. He passed away some years ago, and it is wonderful to see his labor still bearing fruit.


Allied Whale News: 

  • NEWS
    As Seas Warm, Whales Face New Dangers [New York Times]
    From the top of the six-story lighthouse, water stretches beyond the horizon in every direction. A foghorn bleats twice at 22-second intervals, interrupting the endless chatter of herring gulls. At least twice a day, researchers with College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale climb steps and ladders and crawl through a modest glass doorway to scan the surrounding sea, looking for the distinctive spout of a whale.
  • NEWS
    Acoustic Techniques Point Toward Better Whale Protection
    Data from a massive study using sound-based ocean monitoring methods could help make the case for enhanced protections for endangered North Atlantic right whales, according to whale researcher Dr. Sean Todd, the College of the Atlantic Steven K. Katona Chair in Marine Sciences.
  • NEWS
    Coastal Conversations [WERU]
    The Director of College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale and the Steven K. Katona Chair in Marine Sciences Dr. Sean Todd joins a radio conversation to talk coastal Maine, North Atlantic right whales, and our changing oceans.
  • NEWS
    Whale Research to Highlight Impacts of Climate Change
    Upcoming new research into the feeding habits of baleen whales in the Gulf of Maine – one of the fastest-warming bodies of water on the planet – could shed light on impacts of climate change on oceans worldwide.
  • NEWS
    Gear Shop Supports Research Efforts
    College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale, a pioneering marine mammal research group, launches an online merchandise store to benefit their crucial research projects.