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North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue

Terms of agreement: The photo-ID images in the North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue (NNHWC) have been collected by the Hvalid-team at Akvaplan niva AS, or were provided to us by voluntary contributions for research purposes. The Hvalid-team at Akvaplan niva AS maintain ownership to the data and by using the North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue (NNHWC) the user agrees to not use data contained in the NNHWC in any publication, product, or commercial application without prior written consent of the original data owner. All photos are the property of the contributing photographers and may not be used without permission. For any use of the catalogue, including non-commercial scientific photo-identification, please contact the curator of the NNHWC.

Searching and filtering

collageThe NNHWC contains photographs of nearly 650 different humpback whales photographed in north Norwegian waters from 2002 to present. In this online catalogue, the best available photo of each individual whale has been picked out for display and each whale has been assigned a unique identification number which is displayed next to the photo.

To be able to search the catalogue, each fluke has been coded based on its various characteristics and natural markings (for example, fluke-colour, type of scarring etc.), and while browsing the images to look for your whale you can apply different filters to narrow down the hit-list of a search. The available filters do not attempt to follow any scientific standard but have simply been created to maximize the ease of use and are all subjective.

For example, one of the filters allows you to filter out all the whales with scarring on the left side of the fluke. Used alone, this filter will not be very helpful as there is almost always some scarring over the entire fluke but the filter will narrow down your search to those whales with major/obvious scarring, mainly on the left side. By combining several filters and different input criteria, the search engine quickly becomes a more powerful tool and by adding more characteristics from the fluke it becomes easier to find “your” whale and be able to make a match.

After you have selected your input criteria, the database brings up a subset of all flukes in the database that matched the criteria. New combinations of filters can all the time be applied and will further aid in the matching process. The last step of actually making a match (to find out which whale you have observed) must always be done by comparing your fluke with the remaining flukes in the hit-list manually. Keep in mind that you may have photographed a whale that is not yet in the database - perhaps even a whale that no one else have ever photographed.

The natural markings of the flukes remain remarkably unaltered over time, but the whales may acquire new additional scars or injuries over time. The NNHWC will be continually updated as better photographs become available or as “new” individuals are identified.

Categorising photographs

Examples of flukes showing the different characteristics and natural markings that can help you to narrow a search are shown next to the filters.

Type: The most basic grouping (divided into five different types). Type 1 refers to flukes that are nearly all white while type 5 refers to almost completely black flukes. For intermediate types, see the drawings next to the filter.

Scar type: Are the major scars (any linear mark or distinctive mark of any kind) that are present on the fluke mainly in the form of white or black lines (or both)?

Scar position: Are the major scars that are present on the fluke to be found on the left fluke, the right fluke or both flukes?

Dots/rings presence: Flukes often have circular marks from e.g. barnacles that have fallen off. Do the fluke have mainly dots (filled circular marks, either black or white) or rings (open circular marks, either black with a white center or white with a black center).

Dots/rings position: Are the dots and rings found mainly on the left fluke, mainly on the right fluke or on both flukes?

Barnacles: Presence or not of barnacles anywhere on the fluke.

Barnacles position: Is the position of the barnacles mainly found on the fluke tips, on the underside (ventral side) of the fluke, or on both?

Orca bites: Presence or not of often parallel linear marks, most likely caused by predator (orca) bites.

White windows: Presence or not of well-defined areas of white “windows” inside areas of black pigmentation on the fluke?

Serious damage: Presence or not of serious damage to the fluke such as the fluke having a sector missing or injuries from encounters with fishing gear (nets, ropes) or boats (propeller scars) etc.

Fluke pattern: Is the pigmentation mainly black and white or does the fluke have an overall mottled, more greyish, pigmentation?

Notch shape: The area where the left and the right fluke meet at the middle is called the notch. Is the notch V-shaped or U-shaped (curved)?

Unbroken black central bar: Applies mainly to flukes of type 1 or 2. Is there a black bar stretching from the notch to the “bottom” of the fluke (unbroken black central bar) or is there a gap in the black central bar?

Fireworks: A set of lines/scars (often parallel) that seems to emerge from the area around the notch like fireworks.

Sunglass Factor: The “jizz” of a fluke. Jizz is a term originally used by birders to describe the overall impression or appearance of a bird but sometimes we find that jizz (in terms of how interesting or special a fluke looks) useful in finding a match. Does the fluke look boring and plain? or somewhat more exciting with the odd scar giving it a bit devil-may-care look? Or is it simply so cool that you just know that this is a fluke most likely to do anything?

What happens after a whale has been identified?

Once your whale has been identified the new observation is added to the overall sighting history of the whale in our database and helps us understand its movements over time. Each sighting adds to the knowledge on which areas the whales are utilizing as well as providing us with valuable information about their residency time in an area and their site-fidelity (if the same whale returns to the same area each year). In addition to our studies on the local distribution of whales and movements of humpbacks between fjords we wish to uncover the migratory destinations of “our Norwegian” whales on a larger ocean-basin-wide scale. Understanding where the whales are at different times of the year is crucial knowledge in order to be able to protect their habitats in an efficient way.

The NNHWC contains whales photographed mainly from the recent feeding stop-over area off the coast of the three northernmost counties of Norway (Nordland, Troms and Finnmark) as well as from Svalbard waters. Photo-identification as a tool to study the ecology of whales that migrate over enormous distances is only as powerful as the co-operation between different research groups across the species area of distribution and relies on long-term collection of data. We therefore work in close co-operation with other research teams across the Atlantic and after your fluke photos have been matched to the NNHWC, the photos will sent for further image-analysis at the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue (NA-HWC) at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, USA, which is a massively collaborative venture to understand humpback whale migrations all over the North Atlantic.

The NA-HWC contains more than 8000 individuals with about 32,500 records of whales that have been photographed from all areas of the North Atlantic Ocean and some whales have sightings histories spanning almost 40 years. All the photos in the NNHWC are shared with the NA-HWC to be able to understand the ecology of a species that does not know or care about borders between countries.

Matching of whales that have been photographed in our area to the larger Atlantic catalogue is currently in progress and in October 2014 we were proud to be able to add “whale nr 8000” to the NA-HWC– a whale that has been photographed several times off the coast of Northern Norway as well as by our colleagues working in the West Indies, some 8000 km away. By joining our network of citizen science contributors your photos will help us to uncover new information about the relatively little studied population of Eastern North Atlantic humpback whales!


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