Since 1980, our scientists have been studying the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species whose numbers total fewer than 450 individuals. One of the backbones of that research is the North Atlantic Right Whale Identification Catalog, which is curated by dedicated scientists at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.
Right whales are identifiable by callosities, the natural patches on the top of their heads, as well as other scars or markings on their bodies. Our scientists can recognize these marks on thousands of photographs, connecting important information about the population—location, mortality, health, and reproductive success—with specific whales. This vital data is used to analyze problems that plague the vulnerable population and impact the development of recovery strategies and management and conservation efforts.
Through this work and other vital programs, our dedicated scientists have been helping the North Atlantic right whale for decades. But did you know that the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life is also working to support another right whale species?
The Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) has funded southern right whale projects in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina. Southern right whales, a cousin to the iconic North Atlantic leviathans, live in the Southern Hemisphere, frequenting waters as far south as the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. Like the North Atlantic right whale, individual southern right whales can be recognized and identified by their callosities and other markings.
With the support from an MCAF microgrant, MCAF Fellow Florencia Vilches was trained in the management of a long-standing catalog of southern right whales run by the Ocean Alliance in Gloucester, MA, in partnership with the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Very similar to our long-standing Right Whale ID Catalog, this catalog helps scientists document the health of the entire population.
With support from MCAF, Florencia Vilches traveled from Argentina to Colorado, where she learned from Vicky Rowntree how to identify individual right whales from the patterns of raised patches of roughened skin (callosities) on their heads and the white or gray blazes on their backs.
Much the same way our Right Whale Team could not compile the North Atlantic Right Whale ID Catalog without our partners and collaborators, Florencia and the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas do not work as an island. Her group partnered with local whale watch operators, who provided more than 460,000 photos of the southern right whales taken between 2004 and 2016 to add to the catalog.
Florencia will be at the New England Aquarium this summer as part of our Lecture Series. She talked about her work with southern right whales on July 12.
For more information on lectures, visit neaq.org/upcoming-lectures.