Show me your tail and I know who you are

Show me your tail and I know who you are

Whale tails vary greatly from species to species, but each tail is also unique within a species. It’s not just the physical shape of the tail that differs. Within a single species, scientists can distinguish between individuals based on the pattern of barnacle scars or wounds on the tail.

Identifying whales individually can provide very important insights into migration patterns and lifestyles. For a long time, as a marine biologist, you had to have a good eye to spot whales, but since 2015, biologist Ted Cheesman has been working on Happywhale.com, a website that uses artificial intelligence to identify the tails of humpback whales. Scientists, in fact anyone who has photographed a whale’s tail can upload a picture of the tail there to find out who the whale is. You will also immediately receive information about the history of Pisces.

Marine biologist Joelle De Verdt (VUB) is using the database to study humpback whale populations across the entire North Pacific Ocean in collaboration with an international group of scientists. Remarkably, after staggering growth between 2002 and 2012 (from 17,000 to 33,500 individuals), the whale population declined by about 7,000 whales in the following decade. Biologists attribute this decline to the impact of climate change. Especially during the strongest marine heat wave ever recorded in the world (during the period 2014-2016), the whales did not find enough food.

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