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Photo ID and DNA sampling of humpback whales, Magellan Strait, Patagonia

May 1, 2018

LHUM_5054I was helping with the photo IDs of humpback whales, to assist marine biologist Benjamín Cáceres of the Río Seco Museum of Natural History in Punta Arenas with an on-going project to identify individual humpback whales.

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Humpbacks are pretty easy to recognize individually, both by markings on their tail and by the shape and markings on their small dorsal fin. We were in the Barbara Channel, in a remote part of western Magellan Strait. Benjamín was using the crossbow to fire a plug into the whale that would extract a skin sample for DNA analysis, and I was doing the photography to ID the whales sampled. (You need to know what the whale you sampled looks like – so you don’t go back and end up sampling the same one over and over!)

We named the two whales we were following Barney (for his barnacles) and Whitey.  I know, pretty original. But it just helped Benjamín and me to work together and communicate by giving them temporary names.

We got to recognize them pretty quickly – not only their tails, but their dorsal fins were very distinctive. By sampling and IDing the individuals, Benjamín and his collaborators can work out how many whales there are in the region, as well as where they travel to. It was a really interesting project for me to be able to help out with.

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