Friday, May 25, 2007

What is photo identification?

I mentioned in the last post that fin whales can be identified individually by the blaze and chevron that is on their right side. Whale researchers or cetologists use these patterns to gain information on a variety of factors such as population estimates, migration patterns, reproductive rates and site tenacity. The patterns are photographed and compared to species catalogues which have been compiled by research organizations. The whale is identified to see if it has been in the area on previous occasions or if it is a whale that has never been sighted before. In humpback whales, we look at the underside of the tail. These can be anywhere from all white to all black and variations in between. To identify right whales, the callosity pattern in photographed. This is found on top of the whale's head as well as their chin and lip ridges. Scarring is also useful when looking at individuals. Whales are also named and numbered. With humpback whales, the names are derived from the what the pattern on the underside resembles. For example, the whale at the top is called "Shark" because of the shark on the right side. The whale on the right is named "Obsidian" because of the black coloration.

Callosity pattern of a North Atlantic Right Whale

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