Henry the humpback whale

We are pleased to introduce you to Henry, your adopted whale. Henry is a humpback whale that Pacific Whale Foundation has identified on four occasions along the eastern seaboard of Australia! We are proud to name this whale Henry in honor of Dr. Henry Herman Roenigk Jr.

About Dr. Herman Henry Roenigk, Jr.

Thirty five years ago, Dr. Roenigk, Jr , a dermatologist from Cleveland, along with Dr. Howard Maibach from San Fransisco, started an annual event called the Hawaii Dermatology Seminar, which focused on continuing education for dermatologists. They brought physicians from around the world to Hawaii to study dermatology.

The Hawaii Dermatology Seminar was very successful. It eventually expanded to include meetings across the country, and so the name was changed to the Skin Disease Education Foundation.

Dr. Roenigk and his family, which included 4 young sons, had been stationed in Honolulu during his medical training. This was the beginning of a family love affair with the Hawaiian Islands and the whales that migrate here every year from their feeding grounds in Alaska.

Whenever Henry was on Maui he would bring friends and family on whalewatching trips with Pacific Whale Foundation and was also a supporter of our organization. He recalls whalewatching during the earliest years of Pacific Whale Foundation, when our whalewatches were led by Greg Kaufman, the young marine biologist who had founded the organization.

Years later, Dr. Roenigk and Dr. Howard Maibach both established family foundations. The Roenigk Family Foundation’s intention is to promote education endeavors and is proud to support Pacific Whale Foundation’s work to protect our oceans through science and advocacy.

About Henry, Your Adopted Whale

Your adopted whale is part of a population of humpback whales that scientists call the East Australia Group V. These whales migrate seasonally along the eastern coast of Australia. During the coldest months of the year, they are found in warm water areas near the Great Barrier Reef, where they mate and give birth. As the seasons change and the weather becomes warmer, these whales travel to feeding areas near Antarctica, where they feed on krill and small fish in the cool polar waters. Scientists estimate that there are at least 14,000 humpback whales in this population.

Pacific Whale Foundation has been studying this population of humpback whales along Australia's coast for 26 years. Much of our work involves a non-invasive research technique known as photo-identification. Natural markings on each whale’s tail flukes allow scientists to distinguish one whale from another, in the same way that fingerprints allow us to distinguish individual people. In the field, our researchers photograph the tail flukes of whales and correlate each photo to GPS data showing the location of the whale when it was photographed. Back in our lab, the researchers compare our newest fluke identification photos to older photos of whales that we’ve identified in the past. Resights of the same whale over a period of years allow our researchers to assemble some of the whale’s life story.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s first sighting of Henry, the humpback whale, took place on September 11, 1996. Henry was observed in Hervey Bay, a wide expanse of relatively calm, protected ocean that is bordered on one side by Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. This bay, located about 3 ½ hours north of Brisbane, is often referred to as the Whale Watch Capital of the World, for the many humpback whales that stop in the bay during their migration along Australia’s coast. We don't know exactly why humpbacks stop in Hervey Bay, but over 30% of this population is believed to stop in Hervey Bay during their migration. These whales are seen in Hervey Bay from late July to October.

Our second sighting of Henry occurred three years later, on November 2, 1999. At that time, Henry was further south along the coast, offshore from a small town named Eden, located on Twofold Bay. Once the site of an onshore whaling station, Eden is now home to a small and growing whalewatch industry. Pacific Whale Foundation has studied the whales in this area from aboard a whalewatch vessel, and has observed humpback whales feeding here. It was exciting to document that these whales feed along their migratory route, at a point so close to the Australia coast.

Our researchers have reported two other sightings of Henry along Australia’s coast. On September 29, 2006, Henry was observed by our research team in Hervey Bay. Four years later, on September 8, 2010, Henry was identified again in Hervey Bay.

Henry’s beautiful and distinctive tail flukes will make it easy for us to identify this whale in future years. We have not yet been able to determine if Henry is male or female. We are looking for clues that might help us determine this. Singing on the breeding grounds is one way we determine a whale to be male; the presence of a calf is how we often determine if a whale is a female. We will let you know when we resight Henry and learn more about this whale.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s catalog of individually identified humpback whales along East Australia includes 9,000 animals, and is the largest in the world. We share this data with other scientists through our involvement in the Southern Oceans Reseach Partnership, a group of researchers created with the support of the Australian government, to use non-lethal methods to gather information on humpback whales in the Southern Ocean. This data includes whales in regions where Japan’s whaling fleet has conducted lethal ‘scientific’ whaling expeditions.

In fact, commercial whaling almost wiped out the population of humpback whales of which Henry is part. Industrial whaling operations stationed on the east coast of Australia in the 1950s and early 1960s killed these humpback whales by the thousands. The whales were easy targets for the whalers’ harpoons and guns as they migrated along the coast. By the early 1960s, scientists were warning that this population was reduced to fewer than 500 whales and was believed to have collapsed. Fortunately, the whales received protection from commercial whaling in 1963, and their numbers have increased steadily since then.

Through our research, Pacific Whale Foundation has also observed and reported on skin lesions observed on humpback whales in Australia. Because the ozone layer in this area is so thin, it appears that whales, especially females that spend a great deal of their time logging at the surface with their newborn calves, may be at risk due to the sun’s damaging rays. We thank Dr. Roenigk for his work in protecting people from sun-related skin issues, and The Roenigk Family Foundation’s support of Pacific Whale Foundation’s ongoing research of Henry and other whales of the South Pacific.

Your adoption of Henry will also help to support Pacific Whale Foundation’s continued research of humpback whales along the east coast of Australia and in other parts of the Pacific. In addition, you are helping to support Pacific Whale Foundation’s ongoing work to end whaling worldwide. Thank you for adopting Henry and showing your concern for humpback whales.

map of Henry signtings