Thanks to the efforts of Zooniverse volunteer ScienceyGirl, we unexpectedly found a match to a whale whose tail tells an intense survival story. We know of this humpback whale, known as CRC11799, from two sightings, one in 2004, one in 2013. Now we know of a 2008 sighting of the same whale, all three in the area of Monterey Bay, California, showing that this whale has ‘high site fidelity’ — a tendency to come back to the same area year after year. In this case, the whale comes in the summer to Monterey Bay to feed on the incredibly bounty of anchovies and sardines found here.
But life hasn’t always been fat and happy for 11799. This tail tells the story of a near-death experience for the whale. 11799’s tail is severely scarred and deformed from an attack by orcas, the world’s largest mammal-eating predators. The attack probably happened while 11799 was quite young; a high percentage of humpback whales show orca attack scars in their first two years. But this attack was particularly severe, where the attackers bit off both tips of the young whale’s tail. Even as large as Orcas are — up to 9 meters and 6 tonnes — the young humpback was probably as big as any of its attackers. So to kill a whale, the orcas have to hold the animal down and drown it. Fortunately for 11799, it got away and has lived to ‘tell the tale’ 🙂
We will soon have this newly found match on our whale-tracking website, Happywhale.com — where any photographer can submit their whale photos, and if we are able to identify the individual (often with the help of zooniverse!) we’ll tell you about it.
The matched image was my own photograph that had never before made it into the catalog. The science value here is that we are developing a higher resolution picture of the lives, movements, population changes and habits of whales in the face of changing ocean conditions. Thank you @SciencyGirl!
~ Ted Cheeseman, PI – Whales as Individuals