How to recognise a southern right whale

Photo-identification

Southern right whales are individually identifiable through the callosity pattern on their heads. These patterns are unique and stable for life. Additionally, distinct dorsal colouration patterns can aid in the identification of individuals.

Using an identification software, the callosity pattern of an individual whale can be extracted on the computer, and automatically matched against previously identified southern right whales, collated in the national South African catalogue.

As the callosity pattern of calves are not yet fully formed, calves can only be identified from birth if they have a distinct dorsal colouration pattern.

For more see Adopt a whale.

DNA profile

Genetic methods also provide a way of identifying individual whales and their kin. A small skin biopsy sample, taken from a free-ranging right whale, can be used to identify the biological sex and generate a unique DNA profile for each whale. Similar to a photograph, this DNA profile is then matched against a DNA profile catalogue to see if that whale or its relatives have been identified before.

Both photo-ID and DNA profiles allow us to track the movement of whales within and between wintering grounds, and between wintering and offshore feeding grounds.

This page was last modified on January 17, 2019.