Bay's visiting whale is identified as a humpback Group was spotted earlier off Virginia

March 12, 1992|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

An article in The Sun yesterday stated incorrectly that the humpback whale sighted in the Chesapeake Bay this week was one of a group of whales that has spent several months in Virginia waters. In fact, researchers have not determined whether it is one of the Virginia whales.

The Sun regrets the errors.

A state veterinarian has identified a whale that has been hanging around the Bay Bridge as one of a group of humpback whales that have spent the last few months in southern Virginia waters.

Dr. Cindy Driscoll of the state Department of Natural Resources confirmed that the whale, last seen about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday near the bridge, is a humpback.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Each humpback has a distinctive black-and-white pattern on the underside of its fluke, or tail. The animals also can be identified by other markings, including nicks or patterns on dorsal fins or flippers.

Dr. Driscoll, Maryland coordinator for a regional marine mammal stranding network, said yesterday that she also hopes to use a variation of photographic "fingerprinting" to identify this specific whale from among the Virginia group.

Toward that end, she said she is gathering photographs of the 35-foot whale to send to the Virginia Marine Science Museum in Virginia Beach, where scientists have been monitoring and photographing at least eight humpbacks.

The species is known as the most acrobatic of the large whales.

The fingerprinting technique has been used for years by scientists in New England who track humpbacks in the waters off Cape Cod and elsewhere. Extensive photographic catalogs of the animals have enabled scientists to follow individual humpbacks year after year.

Dr. Driscoll and other officials say they hope the detective work can add a page to the slim book of biological information about large whales in Maryland and Virginia waters.

She also wants to determine whether the whale has been photographed in New England waters.

"We don't have a great handle on the number and distribution of these animals," said Mark Swingle, assistant curator at the Virginia museum.

He and colleagues believe the humpbacks off Virginia, which have appeared the past three winters near the mouth of the bay, are part of an Atlantic stock that migrates in spring to New England waters and farther north.

He said scientists believe the whales in Virginia have found a consistent source of food at the bay's mouth. Large whales also are attracted to the Cape Cod area because the nutrient-rich waters there support large numbers of fish and crustaceans.

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