Supports Program to Name Humpback Whales
Anne Smrcina, 781-545-8026, ext. 204
do the humpback whales of the sanctuary get their recognizable
names? Its all part of a regional collaborative effort that
brings together scientists and naturalists who work with these
whales on a day-to-day basis. This year, the sanctuary again supported
the annual whale naming workshop.
in the mid-1970s as an informal method of distinguishing commonly
seen whales, whale naming has grown into a formal procedure involving
all of the major whale research groups from the northeast. This
year some 30 individuals representing organizations from Maine
to Connecticut came to the March 25th proceedings. The workshop
was organized by the Whale Center of New England (formerly Cetacean
Research Unit) of Gloucester and the Center for Coastal Studies
(CCS) in Provincetown. The Center is the keeper of the master
database of humpbacks in the Stellwagen Bank region.
the 70+ new whales (new calves born in the winter of 1999/2000,
and juveniles and adults not previously seen), 64 were named.
The only whales left unnamed were those whose identifying photographs
were not clear enough to provide distinctive distinguishing marks.
specific rules apply - the names must be based on the pattern
of black and white marks on the tail flukes, the shape of the
trailing edge of the flukes or the dorsal fin; the names cannot
be gender specific (since researchers do not often know the sex
of the newly recognized animals); the names should not be that
of specific persons (except in exceptional cases); the names should
be one word; and they should be clearly understandable (especially
over faulty sound systems on noisy boats).
common names to whales makes identification simpler in the field.
Humpbacks display their dorsal fins and tails when they dive.
Researchers can often spot distinctive marks in the field; for
other whales, photographs can be compared to the master database
for verification of identification.
flukes (the flared right and left portions of the tail) show individually
identifiable differences from whale to whale - a whale "fingerprinting"
system. The flukes range from pure white to pure black with a
range of patterns and marks in between. Natural marks appear as
a calf and stabilize after a year. Scars can happen at any time
- white scars on black backgrounds and black scars on white backgrounds.
Scars can be the result of orca and/or shark attacks (especially
on the young), fishing gear entanglements, barnacles and other
parasites, ship strikes, and other at-sea interactions.
this year include "Lighthouse" so-called because of
distinctive marks on its left fluke that look like a pointed tower;
"14" named for lines that look like that number; and
"Denali" got its name for white scars on its left fluke
that appear to be northern lights shining down on a mountain.
of the whales named at the workshop were spotted during the 2000
whalewatching season in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Sanctuary support for the workshop covered digitizing of images,
research and confirmation of "new whale" status, and
organization of the workshop.
"Sanctuary support of this effort is important both in
making this group of endangered animals more familiar to the general
whalewatching public as well as allowing researchers to better
understand the composition of the resident population," said
Anne Smrcina, the sanctuarys education coordinator. "Part
of the sanctuarys mission to to preserve and protect its
living marine resources while promoting marine research and education
- this is one step towards those goals," she added.
of the newly named whales are posted on the sanctuarys website
gallery/newwhales.html along with information about why each
whale received its name.