Snowy is the eldest documented minke whale in Europe, while Knobble seems to have a fondness for attention – as evidenced by being spotted over 60 times since 2002, mostly in the vicinity of the Isle of Mull.
Photos of minke whales taken by the general public are being released in a digital collection, offering valuable information about the at-risk species.
The study conducted by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust shows that over 300 minke whales have been documented in the Hebrides since 1990. 33% of these sightings were of individuals that have been seen multiple times.
Dr. Lauren Hartny-Mills, the science and conservation manager for the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, stated that photographs can greatly enhance our knowledge of whale behavior and the dangers they encounter. These images serve as crucial evidence for effective conservation efforts.
The west coast seas of Scotland are a crucial habitat for minke whales, who travel there every summer to find nourishment in the abundant waters.
Every year, the trust receives numerous photos from the public and wildlife-watching teams through a website and app. Volunteers on the research yacht Silurian also gather photos during research trips for the trust.
After collecting the images, researchers analyze them to find distinctive characteristics or traits that can be used to distinguish and classify individual marine creatures such as whales, dolphins, porpoises, and basking sharks found in the area.
The latest catalog shows that Snowy, a minke whale, has been spotted in the Hebridean waters for 27 years, making it the longest recorded sighting of this species in Europe.
Renowned Knobble, named after a unique bump on its back fin, has gained notoriety in the community, featuring in a book for children, a Facebook page, and a song on YouTube. However, Knobble’s gender and migration patterns during the winter remain a mystery.
Images can provide insight into the eating patterns of whales during different seasons and the challenges they encounter in human-influenced oceans. The collection of photos reveals that 22% of the minke whales captured have marks and wounds, indicating that they may have been caught in marine debris and fishing equipment, resulting in impaired movement, harm, or even death. The minke whales observed in Scottish waters are thought to belong to the same group that is hunted by commercial whalers from Iceland and Norway in higher latitudes.
The organization is requesting that individuals from the community share their photographs, both recent and from the past, to aid in the research of whale behavior, well-being, and risks they encounter.
Over the course of 30 years, Andy Tait, a wildlife guide for Sea Life Mull, has shared numerous photographs.
He expressed joy in submitting his photos to the trust, as each photo contributes to our knowledge of remarkable whales such as Snowy and Knobble. By utilizing the updated online database, individuals can compare their sightings with known whales and potentially identify a new whale to add to the collection, which is very thrilling. This is an example of citizen science in practice, and the best part is that anyone can participate.