"A main feature of the new site is a catalog of photographs of flukes from humpback whales that are often found in this area," said Doug Demaster, Director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, from his office in Juneau. "With binoculars or powerful camera lenses, whale-watchers may be able to see or even photograph the details of an individual whale's flukes and identify that individual whale."
The site provides photo identification methods, as well as information on humpback biology, life history, and research. Site users will find details on how match their own sightings or photographs of whale flukes against the web-site catalog
The new website is http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/ABL/Humpback/.
Humpback whale photo identification methods were pioneered by Juneau-based researchers Chuck Jurasz and Virginia Palmer. The team first documented individuals in the Juneau area in the mid 1960's. Some of those individual whales are still being found and identified today.
The team's humpback photo identification methods have been adopted around the globe.
The new website currently holds photos of nearly 100 individual whales that have been documented in waters near Juneau.
One frequently-seen Juneau whale, 0924, has been seen in Southeast Alaska for more than 20 years, and has been identified by NOAA's Auke Bay Lab over 12 times in the last two years. This whale, along with many others, is frequently seen in Juneau in the fall and winter months.
With the use of photo ID, researchers have been able to identify individual whales that stay in Alaskan waters late into the winter, while others have already migrated to the lower latitude breeding grounds. Similarly, there are some whales that return to the Alaskan waters early. The combination of late-staying and early-returning whales makes it possible to find whales in the Juneau vicinity every month of the year.
Regulations in place since 2001 prohibit approaching closer than 100 yards to a humpback whale. Boat operators are restricted from placing a vessel in the path of a humpback whale, and must operate their boat at a slow, safe speed when near a humpback whale.
Observers may report violations to NOAA Enforcement at 1-800-853-1964. Anyone sighting an injured whale or other marine mammal should report the situation to NOAA Fisheries at 907-586-7235.