Citizen scientists track humpback health 1 photo at a time – Newfoundland & Labrador

During summer months, Kris Prince makes dreams come true for whale lovers. He spends about 12 hours a day on his Zodiac shuttling tourists out on the water for up-close encounters.

“It’s a dream job, it really is. I never worked a day in my life at it! Every time I go out, it’s like my first trip.”

Kris Prince owns Sea of Whales whale tours in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. He has been photographing whale tails since 2001. (CBC Newfoundland and Labrador)

Prince and his wife Shawna own Sea of Whales, offering tours out of Trinity, Newfoundland. 

They love helping visitors snap pictures they’ll treasure, but it’s the photos Kris and Shawna take themselves that they really value.

‘It’s a dream job … every time I go out, it’s like my first trip.’
– Kris Prince

The Princes are citizen scientists and they’ve been documenting humpback whale tails for 16 years. 

They identify animals by the black and white patterns on the two tail lobes. The flukes, as they’re called, are all different, like human thumbprints. 

A whale known as Angie has been identified as a repeat visitor to Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. Patterns on whale tails are like human thumbprints and are used to identify them as individuals. (Kris Prince)

Kris and Shawna figure they’ve identified about 800 individuals since 2001.

“It’s really important to have a handle on the numbers and the changes that we’re seeing in this area,” said Shawna Prince. 

The Princes are part of a group of citizen scientists on the east coast who share their photos with a Maine organization called Allied Whale, which has been collecting tail shots since the 1970s.

Shawna Prince and her husband Kris have have identified more than 800 individual whales. (CBC Newfoundland and Labrador)

“It’s really a thrill for us when we make a match on an animal that hasn’t been sighted in a very, very long time,” said Shawna Prince.

“One of our biggest ones was finding one that hadn’t been seen since 1974 … and the last time it had been seen was off the coast of Puerto Rico.”

Inspired by pioneer in the field

Reg Kempen is from England but spends summers in Port Rexton, Newfoundland. 

He got hooked on whale watching 20 years ago. Now he catalogues photos too.

“You’re looking at the fluke for something that stands out to you. There’s one that has the letter F and it’s lying on its side and to me that is F [that’s] fallen and you’ll know that whale when you see it again.”


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