Dorsal fins of adults and neonate

Bottlenose Dolphin Research through Photo-ID

Dolphin research through 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.

dolphin research

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.

This dolphin research project will help researchers everywhere to understand bottlenose dolphin behavior and the impact of human activities on their lives. This program is supported by CLSP.

To learn more about Bottlenose Dolphins, click here!