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Frequently Asked Questions

Southern California Whale Research Project

What is the difference between whale sightings and individual whales?

Often times it can be confusing when we’re looking at whales to easily and quickly decide how many different whales we’ve spotted in a given day. For example, instead of saying we saw 10 whales; we’ll say we had 10 sightings. The sightings number refers to the number of times whales are seen, but not necessarily the number of individual whales. We might see the same whale multiple times throughout the day which will result in several sightings but only one individual if we can’t tell right away it is the same whale. We cannot determine the numbers of individuals until pictures are compared with one another.

What does the BM and numbers stand for in the whales’ names?

BM stands for Baleonoptera musculus, the blue whale’s scientific name, specifically the genus and species. The number after the BM stands for an individual whale, i.e. BM001. This is an easy way for us to keep track of the whales we’ve seen.

How do you photo identify whales?

Often times we see multiple whales during a whale watch trip. When we get back to the Aquarium, we want to find out exactly how many whales we saw. To do that we compare pictures of whales taken that day while on the boat and match them to a catalog of whales we’ve seen and “named” previously. We start by matching the dorsal fins and then the skin color pattern surrounding the dorsal fin. This is like a thumb print- each whale’s markings are different! Some whales have only been seen once, and others have been seen many times. We know that we’ve seen some of these whales multiple times because we have matched photos of them from different days, months and even years. When you use the search box you’ll notice a drop down that contains whales labeled BM001, BM002, and so on. These are all of the individual whales we’ve seen.

Can I share my searches?

You can share your searches on a computer by clicking on the “share” button under tools. This will create a link. You can email this link to others, or store it so that you many come back to this page. Just make sure you paste the link somewhere where you can access it again!

Are there whales in other areas?

Whales can actually be seen all up and down the California Coast and all through the Pacific Ocean! If you look closely at our data, it might look like there are only whales off of Long Beach, California. However, keep in mind this is the area covered by our boat trips which typically travel between Point Vicente in Palos Verdes down to Newport Beach, California and about 12 miles away from shore. This is a very small area given the vast ocean, so the whale sightings look heavily concentrated in this one area. To see our boat survey area, click on the Boat Range icon under Tools.

What is being done with these data?

These data are being collected and sent to our partners at Cascadia Research Collective (CRC). CRC has been collecting data to help manage and protect threatened marine mammals since 1979. The Aquarium of the Pacific has been collecting and contributing data to CRC since June 2010. Some of the recent threats to blue whales include ship strike from the large ships coming to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The data collected is helping to paint a picture for scientists about these threats to help with a plan for protect these locals giants.

What is a layer?

Layers are filters or searches for these data. This allows these data to be separated for anyone exploring to help answer questions. By choosing a layer you can look at very specific parameters of the data such as whales sighted during a time frame or search for an individual whale. You can layer up to four variables at one time. For different examples of how to use the layers, please see the question below (if it’s below).

Can you give me an example of how to use the layers?

Creating a layer following an individual whale with no given time frame:

  1. On the top right, click on the “Add up to 4 layers” tab.
  2. Click on the drop down menu under “Whale”. This will list all of the whales we’ve IDed as well as the unknown whales, “UN”. Pick the whale you’d like to explore the data for. In the example I picked BM004.
  3. Click Save for the data to be filtered.

Creating a layer following an individual whale within a time frame:

  1. On the top right, click on the “Add up to 4 layers” tab.
  2. Click on the drop down menu under “Whale”. This will list all of the whales we’ve IDed as well as the unknown whales, “UN”. Pick the whale you’d like to explore the data for. In the example I picked BM004.
  3. If you’d like to create a date range to specifically explore for this whale, set up the parameters under “Date Range” in the drop down filter. I created a date range for 1/1/11-12/31/11.
  4. Click Save for the data to be filtered.

Creating multiple layers to compare data:

  1. On the top right, click on the “Add up to 4 layers” tab.
  2. Click on the drop down menu under “Whale”. This will list all of the whales we’ve IDed as well as the unknown whales, “UN”. Pick the whale you’d like to explore the data for. In the example I picked BM004.
  3. If you’d like to create a date range to specifically explore for this whale, set up the parameters under “Date Range” in the drop down filter. I created a date range for 1/1/11-12/31/11.
  4. Click Save for the data to be filtered. These search results are orange.
  5. Repeat steps 1- 4 entering in the second search you’d like to. In this case, I chose the same whale, BM004 with a date range of 6/23/10-12/31/10. These search results are green.

*Note I used 6/23/10 as the start of date range because this is the first day of data collected in our study.

What happens when you click on one of the whale tale icons from a search?

When you click on a whale tale icon, the pictures of the whale from that sighting pop up with information about that particular sighting. This may include a right side dorsal fin picture, left side dorsal fin picture, fluke, or any combination of these.

After entering in search criteria for a filter, what does it mean when it says “The layer selections you specified have no results, so this layer will not be added. Please try again with different criteria”?

This means that for the criteria that you set we didn’t see blue whales during that time. For example, if you were put in a search for blue whale BM004 for the year 1/1/12-8/1/12, we didn’t see this whale in that time frame so there are no results for this search.