Researcher attempting to tag a humpback whale

Researchers photographing humpback whale flukes

Researchers going over data

Heading out to photograph whales.

Recording humpback whale songs.

Processing humpback whale biopsy samples.

National Park Service research vessel Sandlance

Research in a snow squall

Matching humpback flukes

Humpback whales raise their flukes or tails into the air when diving.  The flukes have a unique shape and color pattern used to identify each whale, similar to how a fingerprint identifies people. The image below shows the different patterns of coloration that can be seen on humpback whale flukes.

Over time, researchers have collected photographs of flukes from individual whales, providing a useful way to track the life or sighting histories of whales over many years. These sighting histories help researchers know how many whales are in an area, how often they have a calf, who they travel with and where their breeding areas are located.

In southeastern Alaska, researchers working together have compiled sighting histories about these animals since the early 1970s.  In this time individual whales have been documented over three generations.  If a whale comes to feed in southeastern Alaska, that whale will continue to come here to feed each year and the offspring of this whale will come here as well. 

Even with all this effort, there is still much to learn about humpback whales.  This collection of photographs will provide a legacy for this research to continue and allow everyone an opportunity to help answer these remaining questions.

You can help support this research by sending contributions to the Whale Research Fund at Sitka WhaleFest, a non-profit, 501c3, tax deductible organization.

Click on the links below to find more about research on humpback whales in southeastern Alaska.

Baker, C.S. et al. 1985. Population characteristics and migration of summer and late-season humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in southeastern Alaska. Marine Mammal Science, 1(4):304-323.

Baker, C.S., J.M. Straley, and A. Perry. 1992. Population characteristics of individually identified humpback whales in southeastern Alaska: Summer and fall 1986. Fisheries Bulletin, U.S. 90:429-437.

Calambokidis J. et al. 2001. Movements and population structure of humpback whales in the North Pacific. Marine Mammal Science, 17(4):769-794.

Calambokidis J. et al. 2008. SPLASH: Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpback Whales in the North Pacific. Final Report. Cascadia Research Collective for U.S. Department of Commerce, Olympia, WA.

Gabriele, C.M., J.M. Straley, L.M. Herman, and R.J. Coleman. 1996. Fastest documented migration of a North Pacific humpback whale. Marine Mammal Science, 12(3):457-464.

Gabriele, C.M., et al. 2001. Estimating the mortality rate of humpback whale calves in the central North Pacific Ocean. Can. J. Zool. 79:589-600.

Gabriele, C.M., J.M. Straley and J.L. Neilson. 2007. Age at first calving of female humpback whales in southeastern Alaska.  Marine Mammal Science, 23(1): 226-239. 

Gabriele, C.M., et al. 2010. Sighting history of a naturally marked humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) suggests ear plug growth layer groups are deposited annually. Marine Mammal Science,

Neilson, J.L. 2006. Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
entanglement in fishing gear in northern southeastern Alaska. MSc Thesis, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK.

Neilson, J.L., J.M. Straley, C.M. Gabriele, and S. Hills. 2009. Non-lethal entanglement of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in fishing gear in northern Southeast Alaska. Journal of Biogeography 36, 452–464.

Sharpe, F.A. 2002. Social foraging of the southeast Alaskan humpback whale, Megaptera novaengliae. PhD, Simon Frasier University, Vancouver, BC Dissertation Abstracts International Part B: Science and Engineering [Diss. Abst. Int. Pt. B - Sci. & Eng.]. Vol. 62, no. 69, p. 3872. Mar 2002. pp. 

Straley, J.M. 1990.  Fall and winter occurrence of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in southeastern Alaska.  Reports of the International Whaling Commission (Special Issue 12):319-24.   

Straley, J.M. 1994. Seasonal characteristics of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in southeastern Alaska. MSc Thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 121 pp. 

Straley, J.M., C.M. Gabriele, and C.S. Baker. 1994.  Annual reproduction by individually identified humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Alaskan waters. Marine Mammal Science 10(1):87-92.  

Straley, J.M., C.M. Gabriele, and C.S. Baker. 1995.  Seasonal characteristics of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in southeastern Alaska.  Proceeding of the Third Glacier Bay Science Symposium. 1993. pp 229-238.  D. Engstrom (Ed.) National Park Service, Anchorage, AK. 

Straley, J. M., T.J. Quinn II and C.M. Gabriele. 2009. Assessment of mark-recapture models to estimate the abundance of a humpback whale feeding aggregation in Southeast Alaska. Journal of Biogeography 36. pp 427-438.

Witteveen, B.H., G.A.J. Worthy, and J.D. Roth. 2009. Tracing migratory movements of breeding North Pacific humpback whales using stable isotope analysis. Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol. 393: 173–183, 2009.


Photographing flukes in Frederick Sound, Alaska