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We Get to Play “Blue Whale Guess Who” This Summer

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Whale Watching | Mammals

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kera

The summer interns have arrived! The next few weeks will be full of trainings so we can get them ready for this upcoming blue whale season. After spending some time with Cascadia researchers, we’ve amped up this year’s data collection and can’t wait to get out there and share the results.

Three years ago I met an incredible blue whale researcher by the name of John Calambokidis. After contributing data to his lab for a while, we decided that a partnership between the Aquarium of the Pacific and his research facility, the Cascadia Research Collective, would be a good fit. For the last year we’ve been working very closely together and helping them collect data on the blue whales, fin whales, and humpback whales off of our coast.

In February, I had the amazing chance to head up to their facility in Washington and work in their lab. I worked very closely with well-known researcher Erin Falcone and learned so much from her. I was able to see exactly how they process the data and match the whales from their dorsal fins. I’ve done my own photo-IDing of blue and fin whales as well as bottlenose dolphins, but to actually be in their lab and see exactly how they do it was such an incredible experience.

Now that I’ve spent some time working in their lab and know how they do things, Erin and I decided that we wanted to step up our data collection and processing here at the Aquarium. Last week we spent an afternoon together setting up a new data system and photo ID catalog so we can match the whales we see directly to the catalog from Cascadia. That means that we can find out exactly which whales we’re looking at in a short period of time! Of course it will take a few days to process the photos and then do the matching, but we have to the tools to do it right away! This also means that we can tell people more about the whales we’re seeing, like if they’ve been here before, or maybe if they’ve been coming back to this area for the last couple of years, or even if it was a calf we’ve previously seen that’s returned to the area.

This data collection and processing we’re part of will also help out Cascadia in their conservation efforts for the blue whales. One of the main reasons we’re aiding in this data collection is because blue and fin whales have been feeding in the shipping lanes. Unfortunately, that also means they’re being struck by large ships passing by. With a small population off of California estimated between 2,000-3,000 animals, losing even one blue whale a year to ship strike it too much. By taking data and identifying these whales, we’ll know where they’re spending most of their time and feeding and be able to prove that they do need some additional protection.

With these new data collection methods and photo-IDing, our interns are going to be busy! It won’t be long before the blue whales are here in full force and we’re photo processing everything we see. If you’d like to join us out on the boats, although we’re still going out on Dolphin and Sea Life cruises, we’ve spotted some blues hanging in the area off and on the last few weeks as well as large array of dolphins. It’ll only be a matter of time before the interns are chugging away at taking data and photos so we can find out which whales will be spending the summer with us.Come out and see them in action as well as hear about some of the interesting things we discover as we process the blue whale data this summer.

We Get to Play “Blue Whale Guess Who” This Summer
This is a different whale. The markings are very different than the other whale.  | Kera Mathes
We Get to Play “Blue Whale Guess Who” This Summer
The flukes, or tails, are also used for IDing whales. They have different colors and scars.  | Kera Mathes
We Get to Play “Blue Whale Guess Who” This Summer
This is what our new data system looks like. This is one of the 5 pages we'll be working with.  | Kera Mathes

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