#24: Matching Whales

Part of our job as an aerial surveyor for the New England Aquarium requires we input our digital photographic images for each whale sighting into a program called DIGITS (Digital Information Gathering and Information Tracking System. DIGITS allows us to sort and analyze the photographs for individual whale identification and matching, health assessment, and various other parameters. The photographs will then be organized in the North Altantic Right Whale Catalog, where the information is accessible to researchers and the public.

The other day, I was analyzing photos taken on January 21st 2009 of a whale sighting of two whales off the coast of Georgia. In order to identify these two individuals, I have to match callosity patterns and other distinctive characteristics to previous whale sightings. After several unsuccessful matches I came across a whale that matched one of my whales, Eg #3460. Eg #3460 was last seen with another whale Eg #3421 on Jan 10th 2009 off the coast of New Jersey by Geo-Marine Inc. As I started matching my second whale from Jan 21st, I came across a very familiar photograph of two whales taken on Jan 10th 2009 off the coast of New Jersey! It turns out that my second whale from Jan 21st matched the other whale (Eg #3421) from Jan 10th meaning that Eg #3460 and Eg #3421 traveled over 650 nm miles in only 11 days. Both whales are juveniles (born in 2004) and likely made this incredible migration together. I find it amazing that two animals will stay together over such a great distance. I'll be interested to see if they are re-sighted together later in the season.

Play the right whale identification game and try your hand at matching whales!


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