Lisa Conger / New England Aquarium

(Catalog No. 1142)
Kleenex is one of the most productive females in the catalog, with at least seven calves born to her thus far—in 1977, 1981, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2001 and 2005. You can see her family tree here. Of the five right whale critical habitats (or conservation zones), she has been seen in all but Cape Cod Bay. In 2002, she took a bit of a summer swim-about and traveled up to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is an area occasionally visited by other right whales.

Kleenex is a virtual poster child for right whale research. Besides the more than 20 years of photo-documentation, scientists have used just about every tool in their toolbox to learn about her. In 1990, scientists from New England Aquarium collected a skin sample from her, which allowed geneticists from McMaster and Trent Universities to later determine the father of two of her calves. In 2001, researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) attached a suction cup tag to her back to determine how she behaved while swimming below the water’s surface. That same year, another team from WHOI used a novel technique to determine her blubber thickness. They approached her with an ultrasound device attached to a very long pole. By lightly touching her back with the device, they were able to measure the thickness of her blubber. Blubber thickness seems to be important in determining whether a female will give birth, and may be an indicator of overall right whale health.

In a related project, scientists from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA) used a special, large-format camera installed in the belly of an airplane to measure her length and girth from the air. Lastly, New England Aquarium researchers collected a fecal sample from Kleenex while she swam with her calf in the Bay of Fundy. Such samples reveal a tremendous amount about a whale. Not only can we learn what she has been eating, but we can also determine if she has been exposed to certain parasites, whether she has been physiologically stressed, and whether or not she is pregnant.  As technology advances, so does our ability to learn about these mysterious animals.