True Survivors

One of the thrills of being a marine scientist is the thrill of the unknown. Year to year each member of our research team packs up their own individual “island life” and prepares for three action-packed, laborious months down under. With your daily commute equivocating to a ten hour mechanical bull ride, and your daily work attire incomplete without a healthy dowsing of seawater, most days you come off the water feeling more than a little defeated. Bumps, bruises, aches and pains are all part of the job, and most days it doesn’t seem like nature wastes any time in reminding you of just how raw and powerful it can be. It isn’t all too often however, that nature sends you the opposite message as to just how powerful and impactful you can be.

In our thirty years of research, there have been only a handful of occasions where our research team has witnessed and documented wounds so severe we couldn’t possibly fathom the animal’s survival. Gashes and deep wounds from ship strikes, entanglements, and impacts with propellers have left the team in complete awe as to the very existence of that animal, however nothing compares to how awestruck one can be when resighting that same animal healthy-as-can-be years down the road.

Today was one of those days with not just one, but several of those perfect reminders as to the sheer power man-made machines can have. Whereas typically we may come across one or two scarred animals within a season, today alone we had three; two animals who had fallen victim to small vessel propellers and one mother missing a portion of her lower back completely (likely from a vessel collision).

With recent studies showing that 52-78% of humpbacks within southeast Alaskan waters alone have at least some form of entanglement scarring, it’s fairly apparent that our impacts on these animals are huge. Truth be told, marine mammals are perhaps some of the most resilient animals when it comes to survival and defeating the odds, however it may be years to come before we even gain any real understanding as to how these wounds truly affect these animals. Whether it be a loss in swimming efficiency, maneuverability or simply stress from trauma, these are all factors that can play into an animal’s reproductive success.

At the end of the day, these images can be viewed either as a success story or as a subtle reminder that these animals still need protection. We all need to do our part in preserving the marine environment. While not all of us have the ability to remove fishing gear directly from the ocean or to firsthand disentangle a whale in distress, we ALL have the ability to create a positive change by getting involved, educating ourselves, and by setting an example for future generations.


Annie Macie


Mel (visitor) says:

Wow its insane to look at some of those pictures and think that the animals actually live. Its crazy how some animals can get seriously injured and still get on going. I know a normal human couldn't take half of what you showed in those pictures. Like you said they are true survivors.

Mel Madison
cyber defender

Beth Salles (visitor) says:

on the top injury. are there a lot of nerves in that area of the whale or is that mainly blubber and fat? how much pain do you think that animal was in at that time? amazing how it healed up.

Anonymous (visitor) says:

Ouch. Amazing how nature heals, no matter how injured an animal is.