Location: Simons IMAX Theatre

Aquarium Lecture Series

The Southern Right Whales of Argentine: A 47-year Story Written by Biological Research and Citizen Science

Thursday, July 12

Right whales can be identified by the callosities pattern on their heads. A photographic catalog of 3,200 individually identified southern right whales has been built up on their calving ground at Península Valdés, Argentina, through annual aerial surveys since 1971. This long-term database is a unique resource for research, conservation, and education, and is the backbone of the Right Whale Program, run by Ocean Alliance and Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas (ICB) in the United States and Argentina, respectively. However, the database still represents a relatively small sample of whale life histories occurring in Valdés. To increase this sample size, eight whale watch photographers have contributed 460,000 photographs of whales taken between 2003 and 2016. The operators want to share the life histories of the individual whales they are seeing with about 110,000 tourists they host each year.

Supported by the Marine Conservation Action Fund, ICB researcher Florencia Vilches and Victoria Rowntree, the director of the Right Whale Program in the United States, created a way to integrate these boat-based photographs with the aerial survey catalog. Florencia is directing this project and working with members of the whale watching companies, volunteers with ICB, and local students. Join Florencia in learning how a long-term study resulted in whale life histories, how each of them has contributed to the knowledge about this population, and how a combination of scientific research and the active participation of citizens succeed in filling critical data gaps for a better assessment of the health of Valdés whales and their habitat.