BAR HARBOR — Judy Allen, the associate director of Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic and the project director of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog, is Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s Volunteer of the Year.
Allen, better known as COA’s registrar, can be pretty quiet about the volunteer work she does for Allied Whale. In fact, it’s a side of her quite a few people don’t know about. But for hundreds of hours every year, Allen steadily catalogues humpback whales, co-authors scientific articles and contributes to museum installations.
Allen’s work has, in fact, “earned her the title of godmother of Allied Whale,” according to Tom Fernald, a research associate with the group.
This spring, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary nominated her as their “Volunteer of the Year” for the hours she spent in support of CARIB Tails and the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Sister Sanctuary Program.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Allen. “Many organizations in this field depend on volunteer work, so it’s really an honor to be recognized.”
Allen has volunteered for SBNMS since 1992, for the Sister Sanctuary Program since 2006 and, most recently, for CARIB Tails Citizen Science Project since 2014. Her nomination celebrates the 10th anniversary of the sanctuary’s Sister Sanctuary Program (2006-2016).
“Judith’s volunteerism spans decades and kindles commitment beyond political boundaries,” said SBNMS advisory council coordinator Nathalie Ward. “Her work allows us to tell the ‘Tale of Sanctuary Tails’ as it provides the detailed information about humpback whale movements and life histories that demonstrate the importance of the habitat in the management, conservation and protection equation.”
Allen has been working with Allied Whale for about 25 years.
“It was really just a happy circumstance. I really didn’t have any particular background, but this project needed a part-time person, and I somehow got connected to it,” Allen said of her beginnings with the group. Her passion for whales first began when she came to College of the Atlantic, she said.
“I grew up in landlocked western New York State, and had never seen a whale,” said Allen. “And they’re this charismatic megafauna, it’s no wonder so many people become amazed by them.”
Now, visiting Allen’s house is like being in a satellite office of Allied Whale, with humpback whale fluke photos in piles all over the dining room and coffee tables.
Allen, it has been said, is the glue that holds Allied Whale together. Research associate Toby Stephenson said, “she is one of the most measured and thoughtful people I know … . She has always been smart enough to recognize a good risk, shrewd enough to increase its chances for success, and dedicated enough to see it through. Many of those that work at Allied Whale don’t know what they would do without her.”
Allen has taken in many a nomadic researcher, offering rooms in her home to “wayward whale researchers” over the years.
“We are all very fortunate to experience Judy’s dedication and selflessness,” said researcher Leah Crowe. “Her involvement at Allied Whale has somehow become the best kept secret on campus, [but] those whale posters behind her desk aren’t just for decoration.”
Allen has had primary responsibility for photo curation and database operations almost since the inception of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog. She co-authored a seminal paper on the use of natural markings to study this population and has penned over 32 publications since that have been instrumental in understanding humpback whale population structure.
“Photo-identification as a research tool has been perhaps the single most important scientific tool in helping us learn about humpbacks, to know who’s who in the lineup of our beloved 40-ton international citizens,” Ward said.
The Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary sits at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay and is one of 14 sites in the National Marine Sanctuary System.
“For Judy to get this recognition is an important triumph, a way of saying thank you to her for her countless hours of dedication beyond the call of duty,” said senior Allied Whale researcher Sean Todd.