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University of Alaska & Glacier Bay National Park
Online Humpback Whale Fluke ID Catalog


Photos courtesy and copyright University of Alaska

Researchers at the Sitka Campus of UAS and Glacier Bay National Park have posted photographs of nearly 2,000 humpback whales of southeastern Alaska in a new online catalog. These photographs feature the black and white pattern on the underside of the flukes or tail used to identify each whale, which is similar to a human fingerprint.

Sixteen research groups contributed information on these whales spanning over 30 years. These long term studies provide some of the most comprehensive information on humpback whales in the world today. Three groups contributed most of the photographs in the catalog: University of Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park and J. Straley Investigations. Other collaborators include NOAA, Cascadia Research Collective, Whale Trust and the Alaska Whale Foundation.

The use of photographs and sketches of the flukes to identify individual humpback whales was initiated by Juneau researchers Charles Jurasz and Virginia Palmer in the mid 1960’s. Many of these whales are still seen and identified today.

Observers using binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens can see the details of an individual whale’s flukes and identify that whale from a distance.

The website provides details on how a photograph can be used to identify a whale and how a person can match his or her own photograph to the online catalog. The website includes information on humpback whale biology and research, as well.

In March, humpback whales returning from the breeding grounds can once again be seen in Alaskan waters. Studies using photo identification have shown the timing of departure for whales from Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands is staggered, with some leaving early in the fall and others staying in Alaska into January and February. It takes a whale about a month to make the 2,700 mile migration and very few whales actually skip the trip to Hawaii and spend the winter in Alaska.

The new website can be found at: http://www.alaskahumpbacks.org


All materials copyright 2006 Petersburg Marine Mammal Center and/or its content contributors. All Rights Reserved. Photo credits & copyrights can be found here.