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Welcome to the WhaleNet Humpback Catalog. This catalog contains photographs and sighting data for humpback whales seen in the Gulf of Maine. This information was obtained from the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog, which is curated at Allied Whale, the marine mammal research laboratory at College of the Atlantic (COA) in Bar Harbor, Maine. The North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog is based on the research technique of photo-identification (photo-id). This technique involves taking photographs of animals and using natural markings to identify each individual. Using this technique, individual whales may be tracked over long periods of time.

History of Tagging

Photo-id was an important development for the study of marine mammals. Prior to the use of photo-id, whales had to be artificially marked in order to be tracked. Scientists first used Discovery Tags. These tags were shot into the blubber of the whale. If that individual was killed by the whaling industry, the tag was discovered' during flensing, and sent back to the researchers. This research gave us limited information on the movement patterns of these tagged whales. We at least knew when and where they were tagged and where they were killed. Many tags were never recovered, so this was not a very efficient method for studying large whales.

Various other tags were developed which were designed to be seen when the whales surfaced. These were difficult to see if the seas were rough and tended to fall out after a short period of time. A better technique was needed to study individual whales over long periods of time. By the early 1970s, researchers in various parts of the world were using natural markings to identify individual whales in the field. Michael Bigg was identifying individual killer whales on the west coast of Canada, and Roger Payne was using similar techniques to identify individual southern right whales off Patagonia in Argentina. Each species has its own distinctive characteristics which allow researchers to identify individuals within that species. For killer whales, researchers utilize dorsal fin shape, the shape of the saddle patch behind the dorsal fin and scars to distinguish individuals. Right whales, which lack dorsal fins, are identified by the patterns of callosities, wart-like growths which form on the tops of their heads and lower jaws. Many right whales also carry scars from entanglements in fishing gear or ship strikes, and these are also used for identifying individuals.

Method to Photo-Identify Humpback Whales

Allied Whale developed photo-id techniques for humpback whales and in 1976 published the first North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog. Individual humpbacks are identified by the black and white pigmentation patterns and scars on the underside of their flukes (tails), and the distinctive scalloped edge, called the trailing edge of the flukes. When humpbacks dive, they raise their flukes above the water's surface and provide researchers with the opportunity to photograph the markings on the underside or ventral surface. Photographs of these natural markings have allowed researchers to monitor the movements, health and behavior of individual humpbacks since this research began in the early 1970s.

The North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog now contains images of over 5,200 individual humpback whales and has provided detailed data on humpback reproduction, migration, social interactions and population dynamics. To accomplish this photo-id research, Allied Whale has collaborated with over 300 North Atlantic researchers from the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Bermuda and the West Indies. This international collaboration continues to strengthen Allied Whale's research efforts and provides additional information for the Catalog.

This data base is constructed for your use in collaboration with

Allied Whale
at the College of the Atlantic
Bar Harbor, Maine

and MANY of the contributors to the catalogue who released the use of their data for this educational program. Thank you all for your unselfish contributions to the "students" of the world.

WhaleNet Humpback Catalog

The WhaleNet Humpback Catalog contains a subset of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog, primarily the humpbacks people are most likely to see if they go on a whale watch off the coast of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts or the Canadian Maritimes. When using the WhaleNet Humpback Catalog, keep in mind that this information is not the complete sighting history for each of these whales. Contributors typically submit only one photograph and sighting data of each whale per year. This allows the Catalog to roughly monitor the population over the long term. Research organizations which perform dedicated field research have more complete sighting histories for individual animals within their research areas.

Matching a Fluke Photograph

When Allied Whale receives a fluke photograph, it is compared with the photographs in the Catalog to see if that individual whale is already represented. Each new whale is assigned a Catalog number. Information on the date and location of each sighting is entered into the Catalog database, and the photograph is inserted into the Catalog. At this time, the Gulf of Maine section of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog fills several three ring binders. Each page displays nine photographs on each side. The complete North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog fills over 15 notebooks. The database contains over 16,000 sighting records for the 5,200 individuals, some of which go back as far as 1970.

Naming A Humpback Whale

Gulf of Maine humpbacks are also given names. Each spring, researchers from the Gulf of Maine assemble for a Naming Party. Photographs of each new whale are brought to the party. Everyone reviews the photographs and nominates a name for each whale, then a vote is taken. The whale is officially given the name that receives the most votes. The names usually refer to marks on the fluke, but occasionally may refer to marks on another part of the body or relate to the mother's name. For example, Quixote has a mark on the fluke that looks like Don Quixote on his donkey. Ibis has a mark that looks like the curved bill of an ibis (bird). Ivory, Leukos and Blanco have all white flukes. Midnight, Ebony and Nocturne all have black flukes. Orion and Cassiopeia are named for patterns on their flukes that resemble constellations.

"Salt" a Case History of Naming

Salt, one of the Grand Dames of this population, is named for white pigmentation on her dorsal fin. She looks like she has been sprinkled with salt. Her calves are named Crystal, Halos, Thalassa and Brine, which all refer to salt in some way. [Can you find definitions for all these salt-related words?] Salt also has calves named Salsa and Tabasco, more spicy seasonings. Humpbacks have also been named after famous people. Churchill received its name because of a V-shaped nick in its fluke that resembled Winston Churchill's famous "V for Victory" hand signal. Silver, an adult female who lost half of her fluke to a boat's propeller was named after the infamous pirate Long John Silver. For various reasons, whales are no longer named after people. Since it is difficult to determine the sex of a whale, it is difficult to match genders. It gets confusing when a female whale, such as Silver, is named after a man.

You can currently search the on-line catalog by the whale's catalog number or name. If a match is found, a fluke photograph and sighting history of the whale will appear on your screen. The data displayed contains the Whale Catalog Number, Whale Name, and for each sighting of this animal, the date, location (either general location or general location and latitude and longitude), the name of the individual or research organization who contributed the sighting data, the Catalog Number of any calves this whale has had and the Catalog Numbers of any whales seen with this individual.

Follow a Humpback's Travels

Find a chart of the Gulf of Maine. Can you find the areas that humpbacks are usually found? These include Jeffreys Ledge, Stellwagen Bank, the Great South Channel, and Brier Island, Nova Scotia? Look at a chart of the North Atlantic. Can you find the Gulf of Maine, Samana Bay, West Indies, the Dominican Republic, the Bay of Fundy? Measure the distance a whale would have to swim to get from the Dominican Republic to the Gulf of Maine.

You can use this information to plot the locations of sightings of this whale. Think of questions you have about this whale, then see if you can use the information in the catalog to answer your questions. Does the whale return to the same area each year or does it travel around the Gulf of Maine? Has it ever had a calf? How often do females have calves? Study the fluke photograph, and see if you can determine how the whale got its name.

Recent information on the Humpback Population

Smith, T.D., J. Allen, P.J. Clapham, P.S. Hammond, S. Katona, F. Larsen, J. Lein, D. Mattila, P.J. Palsbol, J. Sigurjonsson, P.T. Stevick, and N. Oien. 1999. An Ocean-Basin-Wide mark-recapture study of the north Atlantic Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Marine Mammal Science 15(1):1-32.

This two year study of humpback whales in the N. Atlantic using a mark-recapture analysis of humpback fluke photographs and biopsies of both breeding and feeding areas of the N. Atlantic provided a population estimate of 10,600 (95% confidence interval 93,000-12,100) for the entire N. Atlantic. These estimates are significantly larger and more precise than estimates made for the 1980's, potentially reflecting population growth. This determined growth of the population may lead to the change in status for this species. This may include "delisting" this species from endangered to threatened, or recovered under the endangered species act (ESA).


Allied Whale welcomes submissions of your photographs as long as they meet their stringent requirements. The Catalog is only as good as the photographs it contains, so any submitted photographs must be in focus, properly exposed, and of a sufficient size to be easily matched. Here are the requirements and examples of what is acceptable.

1. Fluke must occupy at least 50% of print, or taken at a range where identifying marks and trailing edge can be clearly seen.

2. Focus must be good enough that identifying marks and trailing edge can be clearly seen.

3. Contrast (the difference in the black and white parts of the photo) must be sufficient to clearly show the markings and define the trailing edge of the fluke.

4. At least 50% of the fluke must be included in the photograph.

5. The angle of the fluke must be close to 90 degrees or such that the flukes are facing you to allow marks and the trailing edge to be seen.

To submit photographs, send them to
Allied Whale
College of the Atlantic
105 Eden Street
Bar Harbor, Maine 04609

Along with your name and address, please include sighting data with your photograph, such as date, location (general and latitude/longitude if available), roll and frame number (or reference number for that animal if you have assigned one in the field) and Humpback Whale Catalog Number if you have matched your photograph to the Catalog. If your photograph meets Allied Whale's requirements, the sighting data will be included in the Catalog and you will be listed as the contributor. If you wish your sighting information to be listed in the On-line Catalog, you must include a statement releasing your data to WhaleNet for educational purposes.


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