About Match My Whale

Match My Whale logoMatch My Whale taps into the power of citizen science and crowdsourcing to help with humpback whale fluke photo-identification research. We invite individuals from around the world to participate in this free program and to contribute their own photos of humpback whale flukes if they wish.

As a citizen scientist, you’ll help us analyze large collections of humpback whale fluke photo-identification images from Australia and speed up the rate of new discoveries from whale photo-identification research.

About This Project

This project was initiated by Pacific Whale Foundation in 2014, with support from a grant from the Australian Marine Mammal Centre Grants Program, through Australia’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. We want to determine if crowdsourcing offers a more efficient and accurate way to match humpback whale fluke photo-identification images.

Pacific Whale Foundation has donated its catalog of individually identified whales from East Australia, and the Centre for Whale Research donated its photo catalog of identified whales from West Australia. We encourage members of the Australian public to upload their humpback whale fluke photos for this combined online catalog.

We invite people from around the world to participate in this citizen science, crowdsourcing effort to match newly uploaded photographs to fluke photographs in these catalogs and to match existing fluke photographs with others in the same catalog.

What is Fluke Photo Identification?

Example of fluke matchingFluke identification allows researchers to identify individual humpback whales.

The ventral (underside) of humpback whale flukes range from mostly all white to mostly all black, with an infinite variety of mottled black and white patterns in between. Many whales also have permanent scars on their flukes caused by sharks, killer whales or scrapes with rocks, hard surfaces or barnacles on other whales. The features on the fluke provide a unique identification for each whale.

Researchers photograph the underside of whale flukes observed in the wild. These fluke photographs serve the same purpose as a human fingerprint.

Scientists create “catalogs” of whales that have been individually identified through fluke photo identification. When scientists gather new fluke photos, they check the new photos against the catalogs of previously identified whales. They look for “matches” – meaning that the whale had been sighted before. It takes many hours of time to find these matches. Computers can speed up the process but do not do the job nearly as well as humans, due to the unbeatable pattern recognition ability of the human brain.

When we find a match—meaning that a whale has been sighted in two locations—it provides data that can be used to create models of humpback whale population abundance, trends, and distribution.