Photo-identification

Whales have a face!

Hang-Nail_©-ORE…a-Tscherter1-300x200

  • Minke whale Hang Nail
  • Photo credit: © ORES, Ursula Tscherter

Every whale is unique. Observe the natural marks such as the pigmentation, colouration and the shape of the dorsal fin. Notice also the presence of deformities or scars.

Photo-identification has been used since the 1930s on a number of species including elephants, gorillas, seals, giraffes and leopards. It is used today by researchers in the St. Lawrence to study belugas, fin whales, blue whales, humpback whales, minke whales, sperm whales and North Atlantic right whales. It facilitates the monitoring of the movements, social organization and behaviour of whales as well as estimating their abundance.

Every hour spent at sea with whales translates into several of hours of work in the lab. Photos are carefully analyzed, compared to those of several individuals and finally matched according to a series of rigorous criteria. With time, the technique has evolved: rolls of black-and-white film have been abandoned in favour of the digital photos used today. Such photos, reworked or processed by computer, are far quicker to reveal the identities of the giants!