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Sunday, March 1, 2009

J31 Tsuchi - Another Mystery Solved

Jeanne and I have been working at identifying whales based on eyepatches. While we usually use the dorsal fin and saddle patch to identify individual orcas, it turns out almost anywhere black meets white there are subtle individual differences in markings. Long-time blog readers may remember the first eyepatch revelation, when Jeanne figured out the mystery whale of the above-water vocalization incident in 2004 was actually L85 Mystery, based on his eyepatch.

Well late last night, while sorting through photos and pulling out good eyepatch shots, I had a revelation of my own. This is one of my favorite spyhop photos I've ever taken, and I've always loved the jagged black and white zig-zag by the whale's mouth. On this particlar day back in 2005, only J-Pod was present, and J-Pod is the family group we see (and thus, the whales I most often photograph). Still, I had never noticed this marking in any of my other photographs, so the identity of this spyhopping whale had remained a mystery...until now.

Yesterday I was looking at this lunging whale in the photo below; a great eyepatch shot because when the whale comes this high out of the water you can see the whole eyepatch. I had previously identified the whale in this photo as J31 - Tsuchi, and was confirming my identification by looking at another eyepatch shot of Tsuchi. As I zoomed in to get a close look at the eyepatch, some suspiciously familiar zig-zag marks caught my eye!

Both the markings and the eyepatch look slightly different because you're seeing the whale at a different angle, but both match the spyhop photo. So nearly four years later, I've identified my mystery spyhopping whale as J31 Tsuchi! The funniest part is the spyhop photo and the lunging whale photo were only taken 3 days apart in 2005, so I've had the evidence all this time. It just goes to show you never know what you might learn by studying your photographs a little closer. Hopefully I'll be able to ID some whales from other spyhop photos in the future as I learn the eyepatches better.


Vickie said...

Fun. I love that zig-zag edge. I don't know how it compares to others, but it looks pretty distinctive in the photos. Orca sleuthing...pretty neat stuff.

Rainsong said...


I want to say something more profound, I am deeply impressed by this, but, wow.

What did you do right to get this job and live in this place?


Monika said...

Vickie - so far, I haven't noticed a jagged edge like that on any other whale.

Deborah - I have been thinking about your comment all day. It's flattering that someone thinks my life in the San Juans is that impressive, and it reminds me not to take one day of it for granted. To answer your question about how I ended up in this amazing didn't happen overnight, but it did happen because I knew it was possible and because I refused to accept a life or job that kept me away from the natural world. It isn't all glamorous - I've been unemployed for most of the winter as my naturalist job is just a summer gig, but I've been able to get by on living simply. Still, payment in encounters with red-tailed hawks, killer whales, and all their neighbors more than makes up for any monetary deficit.

Anonymous said...

Wow, awesome post! Great shots of J31, she is really beautiful orca. Thank you for notice of zig-zag edge. I didn't registre it before :D

Also good luck for your IDing southerns by eyepatch. I find it as a very hard work and I make a lot of faults during IDing by this way.

Monika said...

Martina - thanks for stopping by and commenting! Yes, the eyepatch IDing is definitely very sounds like you have experience of attempting it yourself? What's most exciting is to find those hard to see markings that are unique - like Tsuchi's zigzags, or J22 Oreo's black spots in the middle of her eyepatch.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome! You have awesome blog! Thank you also for photos of lychens - remaind me my exam from non-vascular plants :)

Yes, I love IDing wild killer whales and I sometimes try to help ID whales from photos of my friends :) Just a hobby :)