How to identify Humpback Whales is all in the detail with the underside of every fluke just like a human fingerprint. Thousands of Humpback Whales live in Australian waters and building a catalogue of these individuals is an important part of our research onboard every tour. A human fingerprint is distinctive with every line aiding in the identification of that individual. Observing Humpback Whales as they dive we can often see the graceful lifting of the fluke as the underside is elegantly revealed. A very exciting moment for whale watchers as we revel in the beauty of a fluke up dive but it is also a very exciting moment for our researchers onboard eagerly awaiting the moment to capture the fingerprint of that particular Humpback Whale and show a great example to our Pod Members of how to identify Humpback Whales off the WA coastline.
Every scar, marking, circle and overall shape of the fluke is unique to that individual whale and a perfect way of identifying each member of the population. Combined with the left and right side images of the dorsal fin we have all three perfect images to create our very own Humpback Whale passport for that individual. Failing the dorsal fin images we can still rely on the uniqueness of each fluke on its own to identify each whale. Building a catalogue of Humpback Whales is an important part of monitoring the populations health, individuals lifespan and calf birth rates for females. It is always exciting to meet one of our friends as they migrate each and every season with re-sightings common. Our catalogue is continuously growing and every tour we add to our Humpback identification research onboard which is always a rewarding process.
Interestingly the vast majority of Humpback Whales in the southern hemisphere tend to have large white bellies which extend to the underside of their fluke. Looking carefully at some examples below from our catalogue we can see mostly white fluke individuals with plenty of beautiful black markings and scars. Jet black individuals are much rarer to observe in Australian waters and when we do meet them they are simply stunning with dark features. Certain individuals have survived Orca attacks but retain the scars from those interactions while past rope entanglements leave their own distinctive scars. The yellowish tinge is often seen on the northern migration but will disappear by the time they are heading back south and is caused by diatoms that grow on the whales skin during their time in Antarctica. Every scar and intricate detail tells us a little bit about the life of each whale we meet and adds to a mesmerising catalogue of magnificent flukes that travel hundreds of thousands of kilometres in a lifetime.