Photo-identification works by focusing on the distinguishing features of each animal, equivalent to fingerprints in human beings. In the southern right whale population, each individual displays its own, distinctive pattern of callosities, horny-textured outgrowths on the back and side of the head.
Photo-identification allows to track whales and study their behavior in a non-invasive manner, and ICB currently has a stock of more than 155,000 images of 2,850 individuals. Its results provide input for actions to conserve the species and are detailed in over sixty scientific papers and conference presentations.
The ICB has also advised on regulating whalewatching tourism, while working to strengthen the presence of civil society in the International Whaling Commission. Its educational programs have enlisted the support of thousands of people in campaigns to conserve whales and their habitat.
This organization has led the world’s longest running continuous study based on photo-identification. With scientific data collected over more than four decades, ICB researchers have documented phenomena like gull attacks on living whales to eat their blubber, or the fact that whale calves inherit their foraging locations from their mothers. They have also shown that climate change is affecting the reproduction rates of the right whale. These are important findings with strong implications for the kind of strategy used in their conservation.
As the jury remarked in its citation: the results obtained by the ICB “have been used as input in key decisions regarding the species’ conservation in the Southern Hemisphere, including the creation of Marine Protected Areas and whale sanctuaries, and the development of new or improved legal frameworks to ensure the responsible, non-lethal use of whales through whalewatching tourism.”
ICB members work alongside education professionals on scientifically grounded learning programs that reach thousands of Argentinean school students. And the organization’s advocacy and outreach activities have got thousands more to engage actively with the conservation of whales and their habitat.