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Irish Humpback Whale linked to Cape Verde breeding grounds

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has announced a positive match between a Humpback Whale photographed at feeding grounds off the Irish south coast in 2015, and an animal photographed at breeding grounds in the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa in April of this year.

Humpback Whale off the Blasket Islands in West Kerry
Humpback Whale off the Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry in August 2015 photographed by Nick Massett (courtesy of IWDG.ie)
Humpback Whale match Cape Verde
…and the same whale photographed by Dr Simon Berrow off Santa Monica, Cape Verde in April 2019 (courtesy of IWDG.ie)

This is the first ever match between one of the 92 whales (at the time of writing) in the Irish Humpback Whale photo-ID catalogue and known Humpback Whale breeding grounds. It’s a link the IWDG has been trying to establish over six research expeditions to Cape Verde spanning the last 16 years.

“After almost 1,000 validated Irish Humpback sighting records and 100s of encounters over several decades, resulting in thousands of images being shared with colleagues throughout the North Atlantic, we’ve finally found a really important missing piece of the jigsaw,” said Padraig Whooley, Sighting’s Coordinator with the IWDG. “But it’s a very large puzzle, which still has lots of missing pieces”.

Dr Simon Berrow, CEO and founder member of the IWDG, took the matching photo on an excursion to Santa Monica off the southwest tip of Boavista in April 2019, and subsequent analysis of the images revealed it to be the same individual photographed by IWDG recorder Nick Masset off west Kerry in 2015.

“It comes as a relief that we finally find at least one breeding ground for Irish humpback whales,” commented Dr Berrow. “It also raises issues regarding how is Ireland going to use this important finding to enhance the conservation status of this endangered humpback whale population. Those responsible for marine conservation in Ireland will have to build relationships with, and provide assistance to, the Cape Verde government in their efforts to protect this critically important breeding ground.”

IWDG researchers will be returning to the Cape Verde Islands in September to further their research and to train local biologists in marine mammal survey techniques.

Follow the full story and updates on the IWDG website.

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