BLOG 7 September 6, 2013
An amazing day today!
Just after the airflight team left to survey the whales, the rising sun created a beautiful rainbow that arched over the cliff-top observation site and appeared to land in the water directly in front of whale camp. After a dousing rain, I hiked to the cliffs and found a spot protected from the strong wind behind a broad bush to leave my backpack full of gear. Just as I dropped my pack I heard a loud blow beneath me and quickly unpacked the camera to take identification photographs of the white markings on the head of the whale that was passing by. What followed was amazing!!
A stream of about 12 mother/calf pairs passed by the cliff in the next hour. Usually I see only two to three pairs and then may have to wait an hour for other pairs to come along. I ran to the cliff edge to photograph the first pair but needed to face directly into the wind to do so. Whale after whale passed by. I watched them through a blur of wind-caused tears. All I could do was aim the lens at the whales, zoom in on their heads, and let the camera do the focusing. It’s too windy today to see much from the cliffs so I finally had time to review the 300 photos I took of the whale stream and was pleased to see that the camera did a great job! The attached photos show the raised patches of roughened skin (callosities) that appear white against the black skin on the whales’ heads. All right whales have one large callosity on the tip of their snout (the bonnet) and then different numbers, shapes and placements of smaller round islands. You can see that one of the whales in the photo has a long lip patches along its right lower jaw and the nearer whale does not.
These are the types of patterns that Roger Payne saw in 1970 when he realized he could use to tell individual whales apart and thus follow known whales throughout their lives and thus accurately count them and learn about their lives. Now, 43 years later, we are following the lives of over 2,800 individuals, some of whom we have seen again and again. One whale has given birth to 13 calves and last year we met her first great, great, great, great grandchild.
By Vicky Rowntree, Right Whale Program Director