Thar’ She Blows — Identifying Whales by their Spouts

Right: NOAA photo of right whale spout, Left: NYPD photo of whale in East River

Yesterday we posted about a whale swimming in New York’s East River. It was originally identified by the police as a humpback, but their photograph of the whale’s spout now makes it highly likely that the whales was in fact an endangered right whale. Given that whales are almost entirely underwater while swimming, it can be hard to identify one species from the next.  One way to do so, is by their spouts.  Whales, of course, do not actually spout water from their blowholes. What we see as a whale’s spout is the hot moist air being expelled from the whale’s lungs condensing as it hits colder air.

The reason that many think that the whale sighted in the East River is an endangered right whale is because of the spout photographed by the New York Police Department. The photo to the right, above, shows a right whale spouting. The photo the left is of the whale in the East River taken by the NYPD on Saturday. Both have the same distinctive “V” shape.  Humpback whale spouts are usually a single vertical column as shown in the graphic below.

How To Identify Whales

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