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A Summer’s Worth of Blue Whale Data

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Whale Watching | Mammals

Thursday, October 14, 2010


As the blue whale season is starting to wind down, our work with the blue whales at the Aquarium isn’t over yet! If you happened to get on a whale watch over the summer, you might have noticed an additional Aquarium person on board. That was one of our photo ID interns. Over the past four months we’ve had eight different interns on board collecting data during all of our whale watching trips. Read on to find out what we’ve been doing!

Being able to collect data on our whale watching trips can help with the conservation of blue whales in big ways! When I first started working at the Aquarium of the Pacific in October of 2007, I immediately took to whale watching. I’ve always been a fanatic about whales and knew that I was going to be a marine biologist when I grew up. After two years on the water with the Aquarium, I had a lot of photos I’d taken and decided to see if there was anyway they could be useful. I contacted a researcher in Washington State at the Cascadia Research Collective by the name if John Calambokidis. I’m sure if you read my previous blogs, you’ve heard me mention his name before. He is one of my many research idols! After sharing my pictures with him and discussing our boat trips, he requested a meeting with me and our partnership with his research facility was set in motion.

Since the end of June, we’ve had our photo ID interns taking pictures of the whales we see on the boat trips and collecting data on where we see the whales, how many we see, and what they’re doing. The pictures are really important because that allows us to catalog and ID individual whales. Each whale has a dorsal fin and markings that are unique to each individual. It’s like having a thumb print of each whale. Not much is known about the social structure of blue whales, so it will be interesting to see if we catalog some the same whales year to year and who they’re hanging out with.

One of the other important sets of data we’re collecting is where they’re spending most of their time. One of the major concerns for blue whales is ship strike. It seems like the blue whales tend to spend a lot of time in the shipping lanes. If it can be shown that the blue whales are spending the majority of their time in dangerous areas, a plan can be put into place to try and keep them safe.

As the sightings slow down for the summer, some of the real work begins. Back at the Aquarium, we’ll be going through the summer’s photos, start IDing individual whales that we saw over this summer, and inputting data. We’re hoping to have a catalog of all the whales we’ve been seeing year to year to share it with guests both at the Aquarium and on the boat. We’ll also be sending all of our data to Cascadia so they can put it in their large data base and start connecting the dots!

If you’re interested in joining us on our whale watching cruises, we’re still out there collecting data and photos every day. Who knows, one day you might read a paper on blue whale conservation and know that you were out there with us collecting the data!

A Summer’s Worth of Blue Whale Data
This is one example of a blue whale we have ID'd. Look at the light color on top of the dorsal and a small light light under the dorsal fin.  | Natalie Massey
A Summer’s Worth of Blue Whale Data
This is the same whale as above that we saw again on a different day about one week apart.  | Dana Roberson

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