We are seeking help from citizen scientists with our humpback whale photo-ID and fluke matching study. Citizen scientists are members of the public who collaborate with professional scientists on research projects. Why do we need the public’s help? Click here to find out why this project was developed.
What is Photo-Identification (Photo-ID) and why is it useful?
In the 1970s, whale biologists discovered that the underside of each humpback whale’s tail flukes have a unique pattern (like a human fingerprint). When humpback whales dive, they often raise their tail above the water’s surface and provide researchers the opportunity to photograph the underside of their flukes. Scientists began photographing the flukes and searching for matches. These methods became known as photo-ID and fluke matching.
Of all the naturally-occurring marks on humpback whales, the pigment pattern on the ventral surface of the flukes (the underside of the tail of the whale) is most commonly used to identify individuals. Flukes vary from completely white to completely black, with many patterns in between. These patterns or types are present at birth, although they are hazy in calves.
Dorsal fin shape is also helpful, as are distinctive scars on any visible part of the body.
Photo-ID is an important and widely used tool for biologists studying humpbacks. From these data, scientists are able, for example, to make abundance estimates of a given humpback population, study local and migratory movements of the whales, and keep track of the age of a particular whale. Techniques such as satellite tagging are also used to monitor humpback whales, but the photo-ID method is non-invasive and poses no danger to the animal being studied.
How Can I Help?
Ready to learn more about the three steps of Match My Whale: SPLASH scoring, Classifying, and Fluke Matching, and to start your training?
Do you have humpback whale fluke photographs of your own that you would like to contribute to the project? We are currently only accepting photos taken off the shores of Australia.