From Whaling to Tagging: The Evolution of North Atlantic Humpback Whale Research in the West Indies

North Atlantic humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, migrate from summer feeding grounds across the temperate and high latitudes to breeding grounds in the West Indies each winter. Humpbacks over-wintering near the Antillean islands comprise one of the most intensely studied populations of large whales in the world. Since scientific research began there in the late 1960’s, researchers have worked to describe humpback distribution, abundance, and behavior in this major North Atlantic breeding ground. The progression and advancement of research techniques used in this region are largely representative of humpback studies worldwide. While decades of line-transect, photographic identification acoustic, and genetic research have given us a good understanding of the occurrence and distribution of humpbacks in much of the West Indies, gaps in our knowledge still exist. This review describes the humpback whale research methods used throughout the West Indies that have evolved over time, from whaling data collection to modern day satellite telemetry, and summarizes the resultant knowledge regarding humpback distribution, abundance, and behavior. For conservation efforts within marine sanctuaries to effectively safe-guard the population, increased multi-national research and collaboration is needed to protect the North Atlantic humpback population from threats encountered throughout its entire life cycle.

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