Kadee the humpback whale

The Story of Kadee

From time to time, our researchers encounter a whale that has an exceptionally beautiful tail fluke. Kadee is one of those whales. We named her Kadee—translated from an Australian aboriginal dialect, it means, "mother."

Why do our researchers care so much about a whale's tail—otherwise known as its flukes? Photos of the flukes make it possible for our researchers to identify individual whales. Look at a whale's face, and you might conclude that these fascinating marine mammals all look alike. To identify individuals, we rely upon the differences found on the underside of the whale's flukes.

The flukes of a humpback whale are wide and flat, and can measure ten to fifteen feet wide. The underside of the tail flukes (the "ventral" side) features coloration patterns of black and white, which vary from whale to whale. These coloration patterns are caused by genetics and by environmental factors, such as barnacle marks or scratches. These coloration patterns, and the shape of the flukes, make it possible for us to distinguish one individual whale from another.

We often get only a fleeting look at a whale's tail flukes as it dives beneath the sea. For that reason, our researchers work to capture photographs of the fluke. While one researcher is photographing the whale, an assistant is sitting nearby, writing down facts about the number of whales in the pod, their behaviors, the GPS coordinates, and other details.

The fluke photographs are later analyzed in our lab, and compared against fluke photos of whales that we have identified in past years. When our researchers find a "match" it means that we've seen the whale before in the past. By referring to the data recorded at the time of the whale's sighting, these "resights" make it possible for our researchers to piece together the whale's story.

Kadee has very distinctive coloration patterns on her flukes which has made it easier for our researchers to identify her and to match her fluke photos over the years. In fact, Kadee was sighted and identified by our researchers off the eastern coast of Australia at four different times since 1999.

Kadee was first observed by our team on July 13, 1999, in the Whitsunday Islands region of Queensland. At the time, she was an adult and was accompanied by one other adult whale. Our next sighting of Kadee took place on October 10, 2002, in Hervey Bay, Queensland. At the time, Kadee was accompanied by a calf. Now you know why she was given her name Kadee. It's a word that means "mother" in an Australian aboriginal dialect!

Of course, this sighting let us know that Kadee is a female. It is very difficult to get a good clear look at the underside of a humpback whale in order to determine its gender. Instead, we rely upon behaviors or the presence of a calf to help us identify whether a whale is male or female.

Kadee was also in the company of another mother and her calf. The sighting was especially noteworthy to our researchers, because we rarely see humpback whale pods with multiple moms and calves in Hawaii, but we do find them in Australia. We are curious about the biological reasons for a mom and her calf to associate with another mom and calf, even for a brief period of time.

We saw Kadee again in Hervey Bay in multiple mom/calf pods on October 9, 2008. We were not surprised to see Kadee in this beautiful bay. It is a stopover point for many whales, especially mothers and calves, as they migrate south along Australia's coastline. Kadee's pods were very active and swam up to the research boat. We call such a behavior a "mugging"—and it is very exciting for our team, as it provides an opportunity to get a very close look at these whales.

Our sightings and resights of Kadee have told us much about this whale. She has been a mom at least twice. She is part of a population of humpback whales that migrates seasonally along the eastern coast of Australia. During the warmer months of the year, we believe she feeds near Antarctica, in the Southern Ocean. From June to August, she likely migrates northward along Australia’s eastern coast to warm water mating and calving areas. When warm summer weather arrives in Australia, she most likely migrates southward back toward Antarctica.

By adopting Kadee, you have helped to support Pacific Whale Foundation's ongoing studies of this population of whales. We look forward to future sightings of Kadee and the opportunity to learn more about her—and all whales—in the days to come.

Kadee sightings map