FACT OF THE WEEK: The underside of a whale’s tail, called the flukes, is not the only characteristic that can be used to photo-identify baleen whales.
MORE ON THIS: You may already know that humpback whales have individually unique tail flukes, like a human fingerprint, and can be identified by photographing these. In addition, each humpback whale also has a unique dorsal fin that allows researchers to track and study individual whales using photo-identification techniques. But did you know that other species of baleen whales are identified using other body parts?
Gray whales don’t actually have a dorsal fin; instead they have a series of “knuckles” along their back. Researchers can use the shape of these knuckles, as well as mottling, scarring, and barnacle patterns on the whale’s back to identify individuals.
Minke whales are identified using nicks or notches in their dorsal fins, or by unusual dorsal fin shape, similar to photo-identification in dolphins. They can also be identified on the basis of lateral body pigmentation.
Right whales have hard white patches called callosities on their head, chin, and jaw. The unique pattern and coloration of these callosities help researchers to identify individuals.
While blue whales are generally bluish-grey in color, unique mottling patterns on both sides of the body near the dorsal fins can help distinguish between individuals.
Individual fin whales, also called finback whales, can be identified by the unique asymmetrical pattern of lighter colored chevrons and streaks on their back. The size and shape of the dorsal fin can also be used to distinguish between individuals.
- Baleen Whales. Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. Retrieved from http://www.coastalstudies.org/what-we-do/stellwagen-bank/baleen-whales.htm
- Falcone, E., Diehl, B., Douglas, A., and Calambokidis, J. 2011. Photo-identification of fin whales (Balaeanoptera physalus) along the US West Coast, Baja California, and Canada. Cascadia Research. 20 pp. Retrieved http://www.cascadiaresearch.org/Falconeetal2011BPIDcontractreport-Final.pdf
- Gray Whale Photographic Identification Catalogs. Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program. Retrieved from http://lsiecosystem.org/photography-id-catalogs
- Payne, R., Rowntree, V., and Perkins, JS. Population size, trends and reproductive parameters of right whales (Eubalaena australis) off Peninsula Valdes, Argentina. Report of the International Whaling Commission, Special Issue 12.
- Gill, A., Fairbairns, B., Fairbairns, R. 2000. Photo-identification of the Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) around the Isle of Mull, Scotland. Report to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. Retrieved http://www.whaledolphintrust.com/cust_images/research%20publications/MinkeWhalePhotoID-AlisonGill.pdf
Written by Patrice Hostetter