How can one identify an individual humpback whale?
The underside of the tail (called a fluke) has a unique pattern, and is a distinguishing characteristic comparable to a human fingerprint. The fluke could be differently patterned in black, grey, and white, and it may have scars from an orca or a collision with a boat. Flukes are being photographed and researchers have access to a special database in which all the photographs are archived. This is called photo-identification. That gives us the opportunity to gather revealing information about a whale’s preferred feeding grounds, migration routes, and behavior within a pod. New research suggests that most orca attacks are done on calves and juveniles, but the scars are lifelong. In the near future, NOAA hopes to have a global database that everyone can access and even add their own fluke photos to it.