Baby whales captured on film

By Natsumi Penberthy 30 July 2009
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Amateur whale photographers described as “unusually talented” have captured beautiful stills of sperm whales so young, they haven’t lost their wrinkles.

Today, Australian Geographic got to peek at some entrancing pictures of baby sperm whales that, ancient from birth, come out wrinkled from the womb.

Australian Wayne Osborn, who took the pictures earlier this month off the Azores archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, said that “someone else spotted the whales giving birth the night before but the next day there was rough water out to sea, so the pod came in close to the shore…the calves still displayed vertical skin creasing from the womb and the dorsals were folded over.” These markings will disappear and the dorsal fins will straighten within a matter of weeks.

In the picture (right) you can see the foetal creasing as the still naïve youngster snuffles around a babysitting male looking for milk – probably while the mother was diving for squid. Wayne described the calves’ movements as jerky: “They pull their heads well clear of the water to breathe, so it is clearly all still very new to them.”

Wayne has been scuba diving for 30 years and now works part time as a non-executive director – he and his wife Pam spend much of their time voluntarily taking photos of humpback whales off the coast of Western Australia. In Australia, these pictures are often taken to add to an identification database at the Centre for Whale Research (CWR), which is helping to track and record the migration of whales from Antarctica to birthing grounds off the Kimberly coast. There are now about 4420 humpback whales in the database and Curt Jenner from CWR says that Wayne and Pam are “incredibly committed” and “unusually talented at this craft”. Indeed, Curt and Micheline Jenner at the CWR are old friends of the AG Society – we sponsored their research on whale migration off the WA coast in 1990.

A passion for photography and whales

Wayne says that he and Pam take pictures at a calf resting area off Exmouth where the calves are given a break from their long haul back to the Antarctic. The photos they take for the database are usually of the left lateral (the whole left hand side of the body) and right lateral (the same for the right), and the flukes (the tail). “The colour and outline of the tail is one of the best ways to identify a whale,” says Wayne. Just like a fingerprint.

With such beautiful pictures as evidence of these marvellous creatures, it’s not surprising that Wayne and Pam keep going back for more. Wayne and Pam are off to Tonga today to take more whale photos. We wish them the best of whale-watching luck from all at AG.

You can find more of Pam and Wayne’s photos at their website and the Centre for Whale Research.