Dorsal fins of adults and neonate

  • They have a lot more to teach us.

    We've learned a lot with your help. But there's still so much we need to know to protect our wild dolphin neighbors.

    Give to dolphin research at the Cape Lookout Studies Program.

  • Sea Turtel sick and injured from fishing line

    You can stop this.

    Protecting marine wildlife is within your reach.

    When you give to put monofilament recycling bins within reach of conscientious boaters and anglers.

  • Harbor seal in need

    Save lives, reduce suffering, learn more.

    It's a win, win, win – when you support our Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

    Please give generously to the Cape Lookout Studies Program.

  • Cetacean Studies

    Inspire curiosity.

    What does it take to get students interested in science and conservation? Your help.

    Please give generously to support Cetacean Studies and the Bonehenge rearticulation project.

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Photo-ID

Tursiops truncatus, dolphin dorsal fin identification

We know less about Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) than you might think. That’s what the Photo-ID dolphin research project is all about. Since 1985, Keith Rittmaster, Vicky Thayer and colleagues have been permitted through NOAA Fisheries to study dolphins by making regular trips to photograph the dorsal fins of the dolphins they see. Researchers have developed techniques for identifying individual dolphins by the scars and notches acquired on their dorsal fins – a process called photo-identification (Photo-ID). This is tricky work, as these distinguishing characteristics can change over time. Staff and volunteers spend hours comparing hundreds of new photos from survey trips on the research vessel “Spyhop” with the largest catalog of dolphin identification images on the east coast. If they find a match, they look back at the record to see when that dolphin was spotted before, who h/she was with, reproductive history (if a known mom), and much more.

tursiops truncatus, dolphin fins

Dolphin #25 (Keyhole) Photo-ID Chart. Photos by Keith Rittmaster

Researchers have been able to monitor the annual presence of individual dolphins, and through collaborations with neighboring researchers at VA Marine Science Museum, Nags Head Dolphin Watch, National Marine Fisheries Service, Duke Marine Lab, UNC-Wilm., and Hubbs Research Institute, we have tracked the movements of individuals as far south as central Florida and as far north as Long Island, NY. We are also currently studying association patterns and reproductive rates of known dolphins. Some individuals have been visiting our area for many years.

This dolphin project will help researchers everywhere to understand bottlenose dolphin behavior and the impact of human activities on their lives. The research is supported by the Cape Lookout Studies Program (CLSP), which focuses on marine mammal research, conservation and education.

To learn more about Bottlenose Dolphins, click here!