WHALE IDENTIFICATION - BONAVISTA & TRINITY BAYS, NEWFOUNDLAND
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Fins (Balaenoptera physalus) are the second largest of all whales and of all mammals that have ever lived on Earth - the largest is the blue whale. Fins were not hunted until the end of the whaling years when high powered vessels could be used to keep up with them. However, they were then quite heavily hunted and their numbers seriously depleted. It is unknown exactly how many fin whales remain, however, estimates suggest that it may be something like 40,000 in the Northern hemisphere. The fin whales we see are confined to the Northern hemisphere and are the Northern Fin Whale (physalus physalus), one of the two subspecies of fin whale.
Fin whales are difficult to study as they spend much of their life in the deep ocean and travel great distances. Very little is known about the migratory patterns of fin whales. Scientists do not currently know where they breed, calve etc. Their length typically ranges from 60-90 feet (about 20-30metres). They are known as the greyhounds of the sea because of their long and lean body and their ability to travel at great speeds up to 40 km/h (25 mph). Fins are often solitary but have been known to travel in small groups of 2-5 animals and this is most often how we see them in our study area off the Bonavista peninsula. They are typically grey with a pronounced dorsal fin, hence the name “fin” or “finback”. The most distinct characteristic of fins is their asymmetrical pigmentation - fin whales are grey, or even black in some waters, on the left side of their jaw and creamy white on the right (see picture above). This is thought to be an adaptation for feeding as the white pigmentation acts to scare fish into to a tight school to allow for easy feeding.
Fin whales typically feed on schooling fish and krill. These whales are baleen whales meaning they have no teeth but a kind of moustache made of keratin which acts as a sieve to filter fish and krill out of huge gulps of sea water (see lunge feeding picture to the right). These whales are not extroverts as humpbacks are and do not raise their flukes, as a result, they are sometimes overlooked or passed by tourists who want to look for a “real” whale. Anyone who has been close to a fin whale can certainly tell you that there is nothing more spectacular than being close to an animal of this size with such grace.
We have begun to photograph fin whales for identification purposes in our study area in Trinity and Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland. It is our hope that through this study we will be able to determine whether the fin whales in that area come back to the same feeding grounds every year, as they do in other areas of the North Atlantic. Once we can identify individual whales we will be able to watch when they have calves, who they travel with, and perhaps, eventually, where they go when they are not in our area. We will be sharing data with the College of the Atlantic, Allied Whale for their fin whale catalogue as well (check out the AW website at http://www.coa.edu/html/alliedwhale.htm).
For this research, it is important to know how we can distinguish one fin whale from another. They have a distinct marking known as the chevron - a lighter coloured marking along the whale’s back beginning behind the blow holes running down the sides of the whale and slanting back towards the tail and then turning and ending right behind the eyes. Dorsal fins can be unique in these whales, especially shapes, sizes and scarring. Photographing both sides of the whale, four shots on each side, gives us a complete look at any markings, the dorsal fin and any scars the animal may have. All of this helps us to determine which whale we are looking at, and helps to compile a list of 'who’s who' in the fin whale population in our area.
In a perfect world, we like to take 8 pictures of each whale, 4 on each side, just before it dives deep (terminal dive). These pictures include the chevron, the back, the dorsal fin and the caudal peduncle (tail stock). Any interesting field marks like scars are also very useful. Sometimes you won’t have this many shots, but don't be worried, if you have some good clear 'shots' of fin whales please send them along and we will add them to our database. In addition, some whales are so distinctive that we only need one photograph to identify them. However, at times, identifying these whales is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle - fitting pieces in here and there. It is also useful to know where and when you took the shot so that we can keep track of their future movements.
If you have photographs complying with these requirements we should be grateful if you would let us have them (we will supply an e-mail address on request) - due to 'spammers' we no longer give our e-mail details here. If you have many photo-images it may be quicker an easier if you let us have them on a DVD or CD - in this case, please request a mailing address from us when you see us in Newfoundland before you go home.
Until a specific whale is formally identified, I have used a simple reference system, with divisions as follows (please 'click' on the button to see that database:
'Unusual features' includes scars, blotches, spots, striations or unusual shapes of dorsal.
I have about 100 animals listed - of particular interest is KPF10, first seen by my husband Kris, which, unusually, shows both sides of it's fluke when diving - just like a humpback or sperm whale - to see this, 'click' on the 'Unusual features' button above.
Please also note that all photographs appearing on this site appear here by the generosity of the individual photographers and good friends (Paul, Cathryn, Wim etc.). No payment has been made by this site to these photographers and their photographs remain the exclusive copyright of the photographer named.
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© Whale Identification, Bonavista & Trinity Bays, Newfoundland (Unless stated otherwise)