Clouds & Cheetah
Did You Know?
Clouds & Cheetah are a mom-calf pair that we have documented every year of our study since Cheetah’s birth in 2016!

About Clouds & Cheetah

Here, we would like to introduce you to not one, but two whales! “Clouds” and “Cheetah” are a mom-calf pair that we first observed in 2016 during Cheetah’s first year of life (making Cheetah about 5 years old as of 2021). While we did not document Clouds during her pregnancy (as we have for other whales), we tracked her progressive weight gain using drones as she transitioned between lactating, post weaning and resting states. Since 2016, we have observed both of these whales at least once every year feeding in our study region along the central Oregon coast.

Clouds and Cheetah are a very interesting case study as they represent an example of vertical transmission of cultural knowledge from a mother to her calf. It is currently unknown how a gray whale “becomes” a PCFG whale instead of being part of the larger ENP gray whale population that feeds in the Arctic region each summer. Is a whale born into the PCFG? Or does a whale learn about this feeding range from other whales and then try it out? Or both? We are working with collaborators to try to uncover this mystery, but Clouds and Cheetah illustrate an example of a calf being born into the PCFG, and staying a PCFG whale (at least so far). The fact that Cheetah has returned to the PCFG range during each summer to feed, just like its mom Clouds, suggests that use of the PCFG range as a summer feeding ground may in fact be a learned behavior passed down from a mom to her calf. 

Facts and Figures

How to Identify Clouds & Cheetah:

Cheetah has beautiful mottling on either side, reminiscent of a cheetah's spots
Unlike her calf, Clouds does not have mottled pigmentation, but is rather dark with small, inconspicuous markings
Clouds & Cheetah's Health History
You can see how Clouds progressively gained weight in 2016 as she transitioned from nursing Cheetah (lactating status), which is very energetically costly to mothers, to no longer providing her calf with fatty, nutritious milk (post-weaning status), allowing Clouds to focus on her own weight gain. Since giving birth to and nursing Cheetah in 2016, Clouds has not had a BAI lower than 36 suggesting that she has not had a calf since 2016 and has been in a resting reproductive state. While we only have one BAI measurement for Cheetah at this time, it is interesting to compare Cheetah’s BAI on the 22nd of June, 2016 (BAI of ~39) to its mother Clouds (BAI of ~32), reinforcing how much energy a mother invests in her calf during weaning.

We fly drones over whales and then measure how skinny or fat they are from the images we capture. We compare the body condition of whales using an index called the Body Area Index (BAI), which is like the Body Mass Index (BMI) used to compare the body condition of humans. Small BAI values mean the whale is skinnier and larger BAI values indicate the whale is fatter.