The Whale Savers

Screenshot 2014-10-19 21.20.23

Cover Story

The whale savers

By Doug Struck, Correspondent


Whale No. 4091 rolled to the surface, emptied its lungs in twin steeples of steam, and raised its tail to the sky to dive again in search of food. It was quick, but Amy Knowlton fired off 21 photos from her perch on the bow of the Nereid.

Later, poring over the pictures, Ms. Knowlton meticulously compared the patterns of white calloused skin, sea lice, and small propeller cuts and identified the whale as a young acquaintance. 4091, a whale born to its mother, Echo, in 2010 off the coast of Georgia and seen in this northern bay nearly every year since, was still alive.

Knowlton could have done it with any of the 509 North Atlantic right whales still thought to exist. She and other researchers know each animal in the endangered population through a voluminous catalog of photos, histories, and biological samples.

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