Elko the whale

The Story of Elko

Elko is a Australian humpback whale named by Charles Simms and Lucinda Elko-Simms in honor of Pat and Betty Elko.

Elko was first sighted on August 28, 1996 as a sub-adult in Hervey Bay and was positively identified as a female when she was sighted with a calf on November 11, 1999 in Eden. She was seen again with another calf on October 20, 2003 in Eden. The mom-calf pair was sighted again on October 25, 2003 – still in Eden.

Humpback whales are found in all of the world’s oceans, and are known for their seasonal migrations, considered one of the longest in the animal kingdom. In general, humpback whales devote the warmest months of the year (summer) to feeding on krill and small fish in productive, cold waters, generally near polar regions. The whales live off the resulting fat reserves during the rest of the year. With the arrival of autumn and early winter, humpbacks migrate to warmer water areas, where they mate, give birth, and care for their young.

Elko is part of a population of greater than 7,000 South Pacific humpback whales whose seasonal migration takes them along the eastern coast of Australia. During the warmer months of the year, these whales feed near Antarctica, in the Southern Ocean. From June to August, these whales can be seen along Australia’s eastern coast, as they migrate northward. Fortunately for whalewatching enthusiasts, their migration is close to shore! The whales make their way along the coast to their breeding areas in warm tropical waters. The whales are seen again along Australia’s eastern coast from September through November, while they migrate southward back toward Antarctica. They typically stay further off shore on the northern migration and stay closer to shore on the southward migration, likely because of the young calves traveling with the mothers.

The compilation of Elko’s story was made possible through a process known as photo identification. Our researchers in the field take photos of the tail flukes and dorsal fins of the whales they encounter, noting the exact GPS location, time of day, pod composition, behaviors, and weather conditions at the time.

Because whale flukes and dorsal fins each have unique pigmentation patterns, shapes, and other distinguishing factors, we can differentiate one individual from another. Throughout the year in our research lab, our team compares photos obtained during recent field studies against photos of previously identified individual whales. It is always exciting to find a “resight” – a whale that was sighted before on one or more occasions.

We thank you for adopting Elko and supporting the ongoing research efforts at Pacific Whale Foundation.

Elko Sightings Map