Cook Islands Humpback Whale Survey

Research Methods: Photo Identification | Humpback song | Genetics & Toxicology

Photo Identification - Identification photographs (photo-IDs) are taken of the uniquely marked flukes of each whale encountered. Photo-IDs are acquired using 35mm still cameras equipped with telephoto and zoom lenses. Distinctive markings and behavior of whales are recorded with digital video cameras on the surface, and when necessary, underwater. Field data, including behavioral mode, individuals present, geographic position, date, time, etc. are collected with voice recorders. All images are digitized and data transcribed and subsequently integrated into databases. Photo-IDs and video stills are entered into a Humpback Photo-ID Catalog to monitor individual whales' residence and patterns of association.
Photo-identification of naturally distinctive tail flukes
Though similar, these flukes are different. See yellow circles for distinctive markings. These composite images were captured from digital video shot as the whales dove.

Humpbacks of the South Pacific often dive without fluking which is problematic for getting photo-ID shots of their flukes. In response to this low fluke rate CCRC researchers have begun photographing humpbacks underwater. High degrees of lateral pigmentation have been documented on a large percentage of the humpbacks observed in the Cook Islands, which makes underwater photo-identification a feasible alternative. Whenever possible underwater fluke shots are taken in addition to the more easily photographed lateral pigmentation shots.

Underwater Photo-ID of lateral pigmentation
Each humpback has a distinct pattern of black, white and grey markings on their bodies. By photographing underwater we can clearly see these patterns and use them to identify individual whales. We find many different patterns on the whales and have often wondered if humpbacks that have similar lateral pigmentation might be related to each other. DNA analysis will help us answer this question.

Humpback survey | Photo gallery



© Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, 2004-13. All photos © Nan Hauser.
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