Individual marine mammals can be identified by the pigmentation on their bodies. We use black and white photographs of the flanks (sides) and flukes (tails) to "mark" the animals so that they can be counted. These photographs are collected into a catalogue so that later pictures can be matched and the same whale only counted once. The technique was pioneered in the early 1970's by people such as Mike Bigg (killer whales), Roger Paine (right whales), Jim Darling (grey whales) and Steve Katona (humpback whales). Today the technique is applied to just about every kind of cetacean and even a few pinnipeds (seals and sea-lions).
Grey whale feeding ecology
The grey whale has recently been removed from the endangered species list. Part of its success is thought to be due to its highly diverse diet. Off the coast of Vancouver Island, nine different species are consumed by greys, and there is evidence from other parts of the world that they feed on small fishes and even kelp ! Last summer, we were able to identify several areas where the whales congregated to feed. We plan to return this year to sample the area with plankton tows, bottom samples, and with an underwater video system.