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Keywords:

  • humpback whale;
  • Megaptera novaeangliae;
  • photo-identification;
  • peduncle knobs;
  • matching;
  • flukes

Abstract

Photographs of 99 humpback whales of known age were analyzed to assess the temporal variability and recognizability of individually distinctive fluke and dorsal fin features used for photo-identification. Stable features tended to be morphological in nature (dorsal fin shape and edges, the trailing edge of the fluke, and the raised bumps on the caudal peduncle termed “knobs”). Transitory features typically were superficial marks (scarring, scratching, and pigmentation). The variability of several features was found to be age-dependent as well. Young animals sometimes experienced substantial change to their fluke coloration patterns, though this feature stabilized with age. Dorsal fin edges and fluke serration peaks tended to undergo more change in males than in females, with most changes occurring following sexual maturation. Peduncle knobs were the most stable feature, with no documented change in any age interval. Given the extreme stability (and hence recognizability) of dorsal fin shape and peduncle knobs, we suggest that photographs combining the dorsal fin and the caudal peduncle provide the most consistent way to reidentify humpback whales, particularly calves following weaning.