Photo-ID Header (PWF) - Cropped

FACT OF THE WEEK: Whale Tale

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?

humpback whale fluke (PWF-Hawaii 2013)

Humpback whale flukes. Photographed under NOAA permit # 16479.

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.

Grey Whale dorsal ridge - front view.  Photo courtesy of Flickr user Minette Layne.

Grey Whale dorsal ridge – front view. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Minette Layne.

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.

Minke Whale dorsal fin with notch. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stack.

Minke Whale dorsal fin with notch. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stack.

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.

Southern Right Whale head with callosities.

Southern Right Whale head with callosities.

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.

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Blue Whale dorsal fin and markings. Photo courtesy of Elsa Cabrero, Centro de Conservación Cetacea.

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.

Fin Whale aerial view. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons (Visit Greenland).

Fin Whale aerial view. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons (Visit Greenland).

FURTHER READING:

Written by Patrice Hostetter

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