The Fantastic Flukes of Sea Angels

A Thousand Word Photo Essay

17 May · Lisa Leslie · No Comments


A mating group of humpback whales during their annual migration

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), our much-loved migratory species, display, like other whales, unique patterns of pigmentation, trailing edges and scars on their flukes that are unique to each whale, much like fingerprints are to humans.


A pair of humpback whales travelling.

It is no easy feat to study whales in their natural environment. Travelling vast distances and sometimes at great depths across the world’s oceans, they are difficult to track. One of the ways researchers study whales in the wild is through fluke identification.  This helps them to monitor feeding, breeding  and migration patterns.


The powerful fluke of a humpback whale with distinctive markings.

Some individuals have extremely distinctive and stand-out markings. Note both sides of this whale’s fluke have what appears to be orca bite marks. These rake marks are spaced out exactly like an orca’s teeth and are often seen as markings on flukes as that is a whale’s means of propulsion to escape an attack. Fortunately for this beauty, it managed to get away, albeit not entirely unscathed.


Beautiful humpback whale fluke taken near Knysna.

You can see in this image that this humpback whale’s fluke has circular dark rings on an otherwise white underside. These are the markings left behind by barnacles, which very often attach and embed themselves into the skin of a whale and spend many years hitch-hiking oceans along with the whale. These marking are visible when the barnacle either dies and dislodges or is somehow brushed off the skin’s surface.


Stunning image of a humpback whale's fluke, with several unique scars.

It appears this humpback whale has had its fair share of scuffles in the deep and has the scars to prove it.


Humpback whale fluke

Against an otherwise very white fluke underside, this whale has several unique markings as well as a unique trailing edge.

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