Lisa Steiner wwa2 at yahoo.com
Sun Oct 19 02:58:39 PDT 2008

Sperm whale photo-id matches have just been discovered between the Azores and Norway. Photo-id began in the Azores in 1987, with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and in Norway in 1989. Matching photos has been attempted between the two locales since 1990 without success until now. Lisa Steiner, marine biologist for Whale Watch Azores, has teamed up with Luca Lamoni and Marta Acosta Plata, biologists working with Arctic Sea Cruises to match photos taken in Norway during the 2007 and 2008 seasons (thanks to Lena Petterson for making the introductions). One whale was observed in the Azores in 1999 and re-sighted in Norway in 2007. And two other matches were found to the 2008 Norway catalogue, one whale observed in the Azores in 1993 and the other in 2003. The matches were made using the Europhlukes Software, Phlex and Match. Photos taken in the Azores are routinely matched to photos taken elsewhere in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. When
 observed in the Azores the whales were classed as males; by their size (males reach up to 18m while females only reach 12-13m) and these matches to Norway confirm that classification. Female sperm whales are not thought to migrate to high latitudes. We do not know where these whales have been in the intervening years. “Teenage” male sperm whales usually form bachelor groups, after leaving the maternal group, until they reach breeding age when they usually occur singly or in pairs. 

Prior to these matches, the only other confirmed long-range photo-id match for Azorean sperm whales was a female observed in the Azores in 1990 and re-sighted in the Canaries in 1993 from “Song of the Whale” IFAW’s research boat. 

This finding shows how useful whale watching platforms can be for collecting photo-id data when operators collaborate together. We hope to publish these data in 2009.

Anyone with photo-id pictures of sperm whales is encouraged to submit them to a database such as NAMSC (run by IFAW) to further this type of work. Potential contributors can contact me at wwa2 at yahoo.com. 

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