THE FINGERPRINTS OF THE RIGHT WHALE – CALLOSITIES
BLOG 3 – 30 August 2013 – from Península Valdés
We spent a good part of this week at technical meetings and running errands in Puerto Madryn, the city nearest to Península Valdés. It is now 6:30 PM on a calm afternoon. As I write this, I am sitting in the truck in the middle of nowhere, looking at the endless shrubland around me, while a family of guanacos (the South American camels) walks slowly among the thorny bushes. We drove to this particular spot because it is one of the few “high” places where we can get cell phone signal to connect to the outside world, send and receive messages, make phone calls… and wait for a friend.
John Atkinson arrived in Puerto Pirámide, which is the only town in the peninsula, and it is a 40-km drive away from the research station on a dirt road. Johnny’s friend Humberto is giving him a ride and will drop him at the first tranquera (the cattle gate that I can see from here) where we will pick Johnny up and then drive back to the house.
In the coming days we will do the annual aerial survey to photograph the callosity patterns of the right whales that come to Península Valdés to give birth and raise their calves. Right whales have raised patches of roughened skin on their heads, that are covered with white cyamids or “whale lice”. So, the callosities look white from afar, and are visible on aerial photographs.
Because the callosities’ number, size and shape remain relatively unchanged throughout the whales’ lives, we can know who is who in a right whale population by analyzing photographs of their heads, and then learn a lot about their biology and behavior. Johnny has been the photographer for the Right Whale Program for over two decades, so he has taken tens of thousands of right whale photos that have helped us to discover fascinating facts about the whales’ lives. Johnny and I will soon spend several hours together flying in circles to photograph as many whales as possible!
By Mariano Sironi, Southern Right Whale Progam Scientific Director