Returning with a catch of herring
As a marine biologist, I started (in a very small scale) to collect pictures for photo-identification of humpback whales in Norway in 2008 - a project that will hopefully one day result in new knowledge on the ecology of humpbacks and give insight into migration patterns between e.g. different feeding grounds. In co-operation with other biologists such data may also reveal migration routes between the feeding grounds in the north and the overwintering grounds in the southern hemisphere.
The most widely used tool for studying humpbacks is very simple and straight-forward. The technique basically involves getting good enough pictures of the flukes of the whales that can be stored in a database. Because no two humpbacks look exactly the same (the flukes have various patterns and markings/scars) the pictures can be used as human fingerprints to identify individual whales. If enough pictures from various places are collected over long time, the same individuals may be seen several times and one can start to get an idea of e.g. migration patterns and the population size.
All projects that aim to understand more about cetaceans through photo-identification are long-term projects and a lot of time and patience is needed before any useful body of data is collected, but one has to start somewhere.
Yesterday, me and a couple of good friends went out with a local fisherman (thank you so much for all your help O-G, you were amazing and did not disturb the whales once!), and managed to locate five different humpbacks on the outside of Kvaløya, and although the whales were clearly resting at the surface for most of the time, I could add at least four "new" individuals to the database. Not only the fluke, but also the dorsal fin is highly characteristic and will be included in the database.
If anyone observes humpbacks along the Norwegian coast and/or have pictures that may be useful for photo-identification, I would be very happy to get in contact with you and you can always reach me on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about the humpbacks in the Norwegian News NRK Troms og Finnmark