North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue

Catalogue #0310, Cassieopia. Photo by Peter Stevick

Allied Whale was instrumental in the development of photographic identification (photo-ID) techniques for humpback whales and in 1976 published the first North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. Individual humpbacks are identified by the black and white patterns on the underside of their flukes (tails). When humpbacks dive, they raise their flukes above the water's surface and provide researchers the opportunity to photograph the markings on the underside. Natural markings captured on film have allowed researchers to monitor the movements, health, and behavior of individual humpbacks since this research began in the 1970's.

The Catalogue now contains images of over 6,000 individual humpback whales and has provided detailed data on humpback reproduction, migration, social interactions, and population dynamics. This photo-identification research provided the data necessary to determine that humpbacks migrate to warm waters in the Caribbean to mate and calve, and travel to colder northern waters in the summer to feed. This photo-identification data enabled researchers to discover that humpbacks reach sexual maturity at 4 or 5 years of age and calve every two years.To accomplish this photo-ID research, Allied Whale has collaborated with over 300 North Atlantic researchers based in the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Bermuda, and the West Indies. This international collaboration continues to strengthen Allied Whale's research efforts and provides additional information for the Catalogue.

The catalogue page on the left shows 8 different flukes. Note the tremendous variation in the patterns. The catalogue page on the right shows 4 different flukes. Can you see the matches?

Allied Whale is currently digitizing all of the fluke photographs taken in the Gulf of Maine. Many of these images are available through the WhaleNet web site.

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