The fluke of a Humpback whale is like their ‘fingerprint’. They have several unique characteristics which help marine scientists to identify individuals. The most important initial identifying features are the fluke shape, trailing edge and the notch shape. The most significant of these is the trailing edge which remains stable throughout the whales lifetime, unless it is altered through some kind of injury. Many humpbacks are also born with very unique markings (birth marks of sorts), which make them easily identifiable. And then as each individual moves through life, it shows the various ‘battle scars’ of life, which either subtly or drastically alters the original appearance of the fluke.
Examples of these include bite marks from cookie cutter sharks, rake marks from an Orca’s teeth, circular markings left from barnacles that were once attached to the whales skin and sadly, ship strike injuries.
It is very important to be able to identify individual whales as it enables researchers to track migration patterns and gauge population numbers. During our Close Encounter Whale Watching tours, we often come across humpbacks that have flukes with very distinctive markings, colouration and scars. Recently we photographed one that had the typical tell-tale signs of an Orca’s teeth marks. Glad it lived to show the tale!