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Humpback whale ID WGRP003 is the second whale for which we got a fluke ID (on January 20, 2014) and is the first one we matched to another catalog. When we visited our colleagues at Cascadia Research Collective in Seattle, we found out that WGRP003 is no stranger to the research scientist's telephoto zoom lens. She was first spotted as a calf in 2005 in Moss Landing, California. Since then, she has been spotted and photographed 40 more times around Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, Half Moon Bay, and the Farallon Islands! So we know that this whale is 9 years old. She had never before been photographed in her winter mating grounds, so when we spotted her alone with a calf, we were able to add another piece to WGRP003's story—she's a mother! Not only that, she is the mother of Kaplan Kids, a whale that has been known to Cascadia Research Collective since 1988 and was previously part of our adoptions program.
Humpback whale ID WGRP010 was first seen on February 5, 2014 traveling just outside of the city of Zihuatanejo, Mexico. There was a small group of rough toothed dolphins—a dolphin about which is little known—that seemed to be harassing this whale in some way. It was writhing around on the surface and acting "funny." We don't know if this adult whale is a male or female. In December 2014, we found a match for WGRP010's distinctive fluke in Cascadia Research Collective's catalog! This whale has been spotted by researchers in both southern California and Monterey, CA, with the first sighting in summer 2013.
Humpback whale ID WGRP018 is probably male, although we can't know for certain unless we can see the underside of its belly or get a DNA sample. We suspect it's a male because it was traveling with a female whale and her calf, acting as what we call an "escort." Although female whales, which have a gestation period of 12 months, rarely become pregnant and give birth two years in a row, it's not uncommon to spot two adult whales and a baby traveling together for extended periods of time and, most of the time, the trio is comprised of a female, her calf, and a male. DNA samples of other similar groups show that the male is not the father of the calf. So why do adult male whales spend their time with non-receptive females when there are others they might have better luck with? We just don't know; maybe they're trying to score points for next year. It's another wonderful mystery of marine mammal science. The distinctive leopard spot pattern on this whale's tail will make it a fun one to try to spot again on the water next year and to look for matches in our colleagues' catalogs.
Humpback whale ID WGRP019 was first identified by Cascadia Research Collective and photographed by John Calambokidis on September 1, 2003 just west of the Farallon Islands, and John photographed it again on September 13, 2010 in Monterey Bay, due west of Moss Landing. We don't know whether this whale is a male or female, but now we know that it traveled to Mexico after leaving its California feeding grounds in 2014.
Humpback whale ID WGRP021 whale was our first match with our colleagues to the south of us in Oaxaca and we were all so excited to confirm that the whales that visit Guerrero also travel further south and spend time in the state of Oaxaca. We also learned that this whale was born in winter of 2005, making it 9 years old. Now that we have a confirmed match between the two regions, we are looking forward to finding out how they travel between the two states. Our colleagues in Oaxaca took a DNA sample of this whale's skin in 2012, so we will know more about it once the skin biopsy has been analyzed.
Meet Ferdinand, a beautiful white-fluked whale named by the Aquanauts Club of Sandy High School in 2014. Ferdinand is the first whale we have records of seeing in both Banderas Bay and Nicaragua, so we know this whale gets around! In Mexico, Ferdinand was first photographed in Banderas Bay on Valentine's Day 2003 and was seen in Banderas Bay again in December 28, 2008 with another adult whale. In December 2014, we learned from Cascadia Research Collective that Ferdinand was first photographed in 1997 in Nicaragua, making this whale more than 17 years old. Ferdinand has also been seen in Half Moon Bay and near the Farallon Islands in California.
Humpback whale WGRP012, nicknamed Perlita, was seen by us in February 2014, traveling slowly by the Morros, a gorgeous outcropping of rocks about 2 kilometers from the shore where we run our study. This whale was traveling alone and we don't know if it is a male or female. However, in December 2014 we found a match for Perlita's fluke in the Cascadia Research Collective's catalog, and have learned that Perlita has been previously seen in the summer and fall in Half Moon Bay, near the Farallon Islands, and off the coast of Eureka, California. These sightings go back to 2001, telling us that Perlita is at least 13 years old! We'll keep our eyes out for Perlita again this winter!
Humpback whale WGRP009, nicknamed Panfilo, has an exceptionally pretty fluke that is easy to spot with its classic black and white markings and raised edge on one side. We spotted Panfilo on the surface with two other whales on January 31, 2014 being very active. This is what is known as a courtship group, as the group was either 3 males beginning to compete for a female that was not present, or two males competing for a female that was present with them during that time. Courtship groups are exciting to observe, as you get to see fins, flukes, lots of blows, and body parts as the whales twist and writhe on the surface.
Beautiful humpback whale WGRP004 was seen traveling alone heading slowly south along "turtle beach," a 20-mile long stretch of deserted beach in our region where four species of sea turtles come to nest. It may or may not have been the whale we saw breaching just a half hour before we photographed its fluke. We are not sure yet whether this group of whales associates with the subgroup of north Pacific humpback whales that travel to Costa Rica, or if it was headed elsewhere. How humpback whales travel through these parts, where they rest, mate, court, calve, and sing are the big mysteries we are trying to solve. We hope to see whale #004 again next winter and will be looking for its fluke in catalogs of our colleagues in Oaxaca, Banderas Bay, and Washington in the meantime.
Humpback whale WGRP024 is one of the last whales we were able to photo ID at the end of our first season on the water. Whale WGRP024 has been seen before by researchers from Cascadia Research Collective, and we were able to identify it by searching for that tiny little white dot in the center of its tail to find a match between our two catalogs. Because of this match we now know that WGRP024 is a big fan of California, having been seen there in March, April, May, July, August, September, and October! WGRP024 has been seen 17 times around Monterey Bay and once in the Gulf of the Farallones; the first sighting was in 2006, and he/she was seen again in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013.
Humpback whale WGRP025 is the last whale we photo ID'd during our pilot season in 2014. She was a mother, traveling north with her calf, most likely to California's Monterey Bay and Gulf of the Farallones, but possibly to Baja, the Channel Islands, or far north to Oregon or Washington. In late 2014 we found a match for WGRP025's fluke in the catalog of Cascadia Research Collective, and learned that this whale had been seen 6 times before we photographed her in Mexico. Five of those sightings were around Monterey Bay, and one was in the Gulf of the Farallones. The first time this whale was seen was in 1999, and she was seen again in 2000, 2006, and 2009, telling us that she is at least 15 years old. Hopefully she and her calf survived the long journey north!