Humpback whales are easily identified based on the markings of the underside of the tail fluke. A photograph of these markings provides a permanent identification (ID) record of an individual whale.
So How Do We Tell the Whales Apart?
A whale’s tail ranges from all black to all white to any combination in between. Researchers compare the overall color patterns, the scars, and the serrations along the trailing edge to differentiate one tail from another.
Whale Tails are Important for Research
Identifying individuals is a crucial component of all wildlife research. From this data, we can learn vital information about individuals and populations, ranging from age, lifespan, reproductive histories, migration patterns, and population estimates to association patterns between individuals.
Over the years, Whale Trust Maui researchers have taken thousands of photographs of humpback whales that are organized into a photo-id catalogue and entered into a digital database.
Getting to Know Individual Whales
The Whale Trust Maui catalogue includes photos of individual humpback whale flukes that date back to the 1970s when Jim Darling was working on his Ph.D. We have information on some individual whales dating back to 1979. “Frank”, the first singer ever found and identified, has been seen multiple times since we first identified him in 1979. The most recent sighting was in 2011.