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Big News: Our First Fluke ID Matches Confirmed

By Katherina Audley

There aren't that many eureka moments in science but yesterday, we had one.

I drove up to Olympia, Washington yesterday to visit with John Calambokidis from Cascadia Research Collective, long-time partners of Oceanic Society. John is the guy who discovered the huge population of blue whales in Costa Rica, who sailed down the Mexican coast about 10 years ago doing a survey of marine mammals, and who might know more about overall population trends and patterns in Northern Pacific humpback whales than anyone else on Earth.

John was keen to see our catalog of fluke ID photos, and with just one quick look through his catalog of humpbacks we confirmed four matches with our catalog! According to a quick scan of his dataset, three of these four matches have been seen outside of the U.S. before, all have been seen many times in Northern California, mostly around Monterey Bay, Moss Landing, as well as near Bodega Bay and at the Farallon Islands.

One of our matches was first seen as a calf in 2005 in Moss Landing. This year, we photographed the same whale, in her new role as a mother with a calf in front of Zihuatanejo. Another one was the whale which we gave to the library of Barra de Potosi. They named it Perlita. There is a lot more coming in about Perlita now, but we know now that she is a mother as she was seen with a calf in 2012 and has been sighted a number of times between 2001 and 2012 from Moss Landing to Bodega Bay in Northern California.

Fluke Matches Point to Family Groupings

John suspects, based on the fact that all four of our matched IDs corresponded with multiple sightings in Northern California, that these are indeed a part of the Banderas Bay group, not the Costa Rica or Southern Mexico group, but with this ditty little sample size, this is not definitive, just a hunch and nothing can be officially said. We need to get more matches!

I am frankly astonished that we were able to match 4 whales so quickly to whales up there out of all the whales and all the water in this crazy big sea.

AND, I suspect we will get more information and matches soon. The scientists at Cascadia Research Collective are combing through their data now and will have more details and possibly more matches for us by the end of the week. I am meeting with Sally Mizroch, the head of the NOAA SPLASH catalog, next Monday. And then when we start sharing our fluke ID data with Mexican whale scientist colleagues from Banderas Bay, Baja, Manzanillo and Puerto Angel the following week at the Mexican Marine Mammal Society conference (SOMEMMA) in Queretaro it's going to get REALLY fun.

But the first match. You never forget your first match, right? And you guys made it possible. So I had to let the cat out of the bag and tell you.

So salud, felicidades, and gracias, my friends. How about we salute the whales with a nice shot of tequila or have a celebratory dance party about this new development? Thanks to your support, we just advanced science - how cool is that? I'm over the moon with excitement and I hope you are, too.

Let's keep it going - please share the Whales of Guerrero Research Project with a friend and ask them to get in on the fun by supporting us so that they, too, can get in on the discoveries and fun.


Katherina Audley is the founder and director of the Whales of Guerrero Project, an effort to study and protect humpback whales and support community development on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Fifteen years of marine mammal studies have brought her up close to whales, dolphins, and pinnipeds in Alaska,Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, and New Zealand. Katherina has worked in Bahía de Potosí, Mexico for the past 16 years.