Unlocking the secrets of whale and dolphin societies

Arguably more than anything else, photo-identification, or “photo-ID,” opened the door to our appreciation of whales and dolphins as individuals. WDC researchers and close collaborators have had a key role in the development and use of photo-ID, and it’s still the fundamental tool that we use in our work with North Atlantic right whales off Massachusetts, USA; Risso’s dolphins in Scotland; orcas in Kamchatka, Baird’s beaked whales in the Commander Islands, both in Russia; bottlenose dolphins in Scotland and in South Australia; and humpback whales in various studies in the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Recently I was asked by Hakai Magazine, a new online magazine, to write a story about a legendary conference that helped launch whale photo-ID as the primary tool of whale research, some 40 years ago, and “where we have got to” since then.

Where we have got to is that our studies of individual whales and whale families and pods have led now to a consideration of culture and the rights of whales — work that is central to what WDC is all about.

I loved researching and writing this story, and it forms part of the background for a new book I’m writing on what we’ve learned from field studies of whales and dolphins.

If you like the story, please share it, and we welcome your comments.

Humpback whale tail flukes showing individual identification. Humpback whale fluke © FEROP

Comments

Wow this was so interesting :O
I adopted a dolphin when I was younger and I just found this website again!!
(What happened to Nevis?)

What happened to the whale's left fin from this angle, looks like he's been injured. Good job you do. Thanks.

Love this story! Reminded me of about 23 years ago when I went out with the M.U.N Whale Research crew and I took tons of pictures of whale flukes for them for this reason! Such a great experience! Awesome work!!