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Conservation: Aquarium Research

Whale Photo I.D. Program

Since 2010 the Aquarium of the Pacific has partnered with both Cascadia Research Collective (CRC) and Harbor Breeze Cruises on a whale photo I.D. program.

Whale Photo I.D. Program

Aquarium naturalists and marine mammal photo ID interns photograph all whales, dolphins, or porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) we find during trips aboard Harbor Breeze Cruises, recording species types, number of animals, GPS coordinates, and behaviors.

Our Aquarium program catalogs all cetaceans we find during a whale watch, but we focus on endangered blue whale identification. Blue whales are the largest animal known to exist, and the heaviest animal to have ever lived on Earth. Yet, we still do not know much about their migration patterns and their time spent in California’s waters. Our blue whale identification helps to provide data and photos for CRC to create a more complete, long-term picture of whale movements in the Eastern Pacific and to know more about which individual whales return to our local waters.

Identifying blue whales can be a long and tedious process. Our interns match the photos they take during the whale watches to pictures of known whales in a catalog that is updated by CRC after each year. At the end of every year, we send CRC all of the photos, coordinates, and information about each sighting, which is amassed into a grand database that can be accessed by CRC and other researchers.

Whale Photo I.D. Program
Whale Photo I.D. Program

All of the data we collect has the potential to be utilized by whale researchers who want to know what our interns have recorded since 2010. Our data that is sent to CRC has been used to create ID catalogs for other species besides blue whales and to create resources for private groups, individual researchers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Services, and citizen scientists in order to learn as much as we can about our urban ocean and the resident and migrating cetaceans.

Whale Project

Data collected during public whale watching cruises includes the recorded sighting locations of the whales observed and information about their behavior. Photos are taken at the time of sightings to aid in the identification of individual whales. The project connects people, science, virtual technology, and whales. As part of this project the public can use an online app to compare whales from different days, months, or years and filter out information based on behavioral data such as fluking.

This web app is meant to be used as a tool to examine this data and answer scientific questions about the behaviors and locations of the blue whales. By using this app, you can compare whales from different days, months, or years. You can also filter out information based off behavioral data, such as fluking or lunge feeding. There are numerous individual whales that have been spotted multiple times since our project began and the data is filterable to follow these individuals. Other tools allow you to overlay the shipping lanes of the large ships headed into the ports and see which whales are most often in danger.

An example of using the filter boxes might be to compare whales from July 2010 to July 2011. In the filter boxes, set up a filter search for July 1- July 31, 2010. Then set up another filter box for July 1- July 31, 2011. This will bring up all of the sightings during the month of July for each year allowing you to make comparisons and come up with your own conclusions.

This data is made available for the public to explore thanks to generous donations from Boeing Crystal Vision.

Whale Photo I.D. Program