North Atlantic Right Whale Catalogue - NEAq


Scott Kraus, New England Aquarium
Amy Knowlton, New England Aquarium

Awarded:  June 2007

The New England Aquarium is the curator of all right whale photographs taken in the North Atlantic. The resulting database of identified individuals contains over 36,000 sighting records of 500 whales, 139 of which are either known or presumed to be dead. Contributed right whale sightings lead to an average of over 18,000 digital images that need to be processed each year. Digital image and database software called DIGITS now is used to process and store all data and images in a server-based database, allowing for live data to be managed from anywhere in the world. The right whale catalog is now searchable on line at

The identification catalog is the primary tool for monitoring the vital rates of this population, and for monitoring existing (and identifying new) conservation and management issues. Data from the catalog have been used to monitor: population viability, migration patterns, distribution and demographics, reproduction, mortality rates, genetic sub-structuring, patterns of chemical exposure, association patterns, mating strategies, patterns of health, and incidence of past human interactions.

Numerous databases curated by collaborators are linked to the catalog, including genotypes, paternity assignments and MHC profiles curated by Drs. Brad White and Tim Frasier at Trent University in Ontario, Canada; blubber measurements and cytochrome P4501a profiles curated by Dr. Michael Moore at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; hormone assays measuring pregnancy, sexual maturity and stressors curated by Dr. Roz Rolland at the NEAq; prey densities and oceanographic data in the wake of surface feeding individuals curated by Dr. Charles Mayo at the Center for Coastal Studies; photogrammetry measurements of length and girth curated by Dr. Wayne Perryman at the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center; visual assessments of health and human-caused scarring curated by Dr. Scott Kraus at the NEAq.

New and ongoing right whale work undertaken by WHOI researchers includes tagging individuals in the Gulf of Maine, continued necropsy responses to right whales mortalities, and feeding studies. Many of these studies will depend upon identifications of individual right whales, and this work will support the analyses required to provide that information to WHOI scientists.

Funding: Curation of the identification catalog is currently only 62% funded by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. The supplementary funding from WHOI will be used to maintain the catalog during federal funding gaps, and to provide individual right whale identification services to WHOI researchers working on right whales in the North Atlantic.