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Humpback Whales and Unique Tails: Scientists Trying to Streamline Unique-Tail ID Process

Dec 01, 2015 05:27 PM EST
Humpback whale off Morro Bay, California
Because each humpback whale's fluke, or tail end, is as unique as a human fingerprint, and photos of the flukes can be used to track whales throughout the Atlantic and other areas, scientists are working on streamlining the ID process. One student at College of the Atlantic, in Maine, is yet another of those trying to add to this process.
(Photo : Flickr: Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith)

Humpback whales, each with its tail end (or fluke) that is as individual as a human fingerprint, are pretty fascinating--and they can be tracked around the globe using these fluke images. That said, scientists tend to find it arduous to identify thousands of photos of whale tails, so they are working on ways to streamline the process.

Davis Yeo, a senior at College of the Atlantic (COA), in Maine, is not doing a major study, but he is at work on a senior project comparing several ID methods, according to a statement on the COA website. Yeo has primarily studied marine biology and oceanography, and he works at the college's marine mammal laboratory, which is called Allied Whale. That lab currently has a database of about 8,000 animals, called the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog.

For his project, Yeo has been putting thousands of photos from the lab into an existing program called Fluke Matcher. It creates a test to match the photo against other images in the database, and was released in 2010 by three Australian researchers: Dr. Eric Kneist of the University of Newcastle (U.K.), Dr. Daniel Burns, and Professor Peter Harrison of the Southern Cross University (Aus.).

"I'm also writing a report on several similar programs in order to compare the pros and cons of each one. While the actual implementation of any matching software for Allied Whale is still somewhat far away, this project will hopefully make the final decision a bit easier," said Yeo, according to the statement.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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