Southern right whales have unique callosity patterns (keratinised skin patches colonised by cyamids) on the dorsal surface of their rostrum, the lip line of the lower jaw and the area just posterior to the blowhole. Callosities provide individually unique markings that persist throughout life, enabling us to identify individuals over time. High resolution telephoto images of individuals are taken from cliff top vantage points at Head of Bight and from the vessel bridge at Fowlers Bay to record callosity patterns and other unique markings such as ano-genital configuration (gender), dorsal/ventral blazes and scars. All adults and sub-adults are photographed and recorded in the photo identification database. Some large calves are photographed however, callosities are generally too unformed in calves to distinguish unique patterns for future photo identification comparison.
Photo identification can provide valuable information on the population demographics of the species, including life histories, site fidelity (how often animals return to the same breeding location), movement patterns and population size. This study has provided data on aggregation use trends, reproductive rates, age at sexual maturity, age at independence, site fidelity, visitation rates, residency periods, coastal and long range movements, calf mortality, genetics, predation, interactions between southern right whales and other species, and health of the recovering population. Furthermore, it is an integral part of international efforts to undertake a more comprehensive comparison of southern hemisphere right whales. Here we directly address objectives in the Commonwealth Conservation Management Plan for the Southern Right Whale 2011-2021.