The North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue (NNHWC) was founded in 2010 by marine ecologist Fredrik Broms. The aim was to learn more about the Eastern North Atlantic humpback whale population and to examine the patterns of movement of whales from these waters in greater detail.
Whereas the ecology and migratory destinations in the Western North Atlantic have been fairly well documented, the movements of humpbacks in the Eastern North Atlantic are less well known. Pioneering studies conducted in the late 1990’s have shown that humpbacks feeding in Norwegian waters in the summer migrate to the West Indies which is utilized as a breeding and calving ground in the winter. In the spring, the humpbacks migrate northwards again and occupy the high-latitude feeding ground in the Barents Sea during the summer and autumn before once again returning to the breeding ground in the West Indies in the winter.
During recent years, large numbers of humpback whales have been observed feeding on herring off the coast of mainland Northern Norway for an extended period of the winter (ca November-February), suggesting a recent change in the migratory behavior and timing of humpbacks with significant consequences for the ecosystem of the region. This unprecedented arrival of humpbacks close to the coast offer a unique opportunity to study “Norwegian” humpbacks more closely and during the past two winters, the project has developed a strong citizen science approach to involve the public in the study of large whales in Norwegian waters and currently the NNHWC has more than 120 different photo contributors.
In 2014, the catalogue passed the milestone of 500 different individuals being identified from the area and during the winter season 2014-15, the database reached 650 individual humpback whales and the NNHWC is now one of the larger catalogues of humpback whales in the North Atlantic.
Currently, ca 10% of the individuals in the NNHWC has been matched to areas outside Norway and whales from the study area have been re-sighted in as many as 9 different countries. The NNHWC work in close co-operation with other researchers around the North Atlantic and matching of flukes from the North Norwegian feeding stopover area to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale (NAHWC) in the US is currently in process.