Photo Identification, Methodology and Guidelines
Photo identification is being used to identify different individuals by their dorsal fins.
Dorsal fins are used for identification because each fin is unique, like the fingerprint
Photos are taken on the wale watch boats. While one person takes the photos, the
other one writes information down about the sighting, like the species, number of
cetaceans, GPS coordinates and so on.
Once every few days, film rolls are developed and negatives brought in. Using the
‘lightbox’ you can start with the process of photo-ID.
Taking the photos
The photographer has to try to take photos of fins that can be identified later on.
Therefore, taking pictures of dolphins or whales that are too far away (further than 30
meters) doesn’t make sense. Always try to make photos as much as possible of the
side of the fin and at the same height as the fin.
The start of a sighting
A sighting sheet is used on the boat to fill in all kinds of information about the
sighting and about the photos that are taken. An example of a sighting sheet is
appendix 1 and 2 (front and rear side). On the front side you first fill in basic
information about the sighting like boat name, name of photographer, date, and so on.
Camera number and film number can be found on the stickers on the backside of the
camera. As soon as cetaceans appear and the boats approaches, a sighting has started
and the rest of the form needs to be filled out.
How to fill out some of the parts that need some more explanation can be seen below.
Start time of interaction ____10:52____
Start GPS N__28°09.119’___
As soon as a sighting starts, the start time of interaction and the
GPS coordinates need to be written down. GPS coordinates can be
obtained form the GPS receiver in the camera bag. If you don’t
have a GPS receiver with you, you can ask for the GPS coordinates
from the captain. At the end of the sighting, write down the stop
time and end GPS.
Pilot whale _____
Bottlenose dolphin _____
Other dolphin __common dolphin__ (name)
Other whale _________________ (name)
After you have been come close to the animals, try to identify the
species and tick or write down the name of the species.
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Total number of individuals IIII_IIII
No. of adults __IIII_
No. of juveniles __III__
No. of calves __II___
No. of unrecognisable individuals ______
While watching the animals, try to count the number you see of
them by making a tally chart. The box in the lower left corner can
help you define the difference between adults, juveniles and calves.
Logging ______ logging when boat arrived, then milling
Tick as appropriate. When you tick more than one behaviour form,
then write down a brief note to indicate the order in which the
activities where spotted.
The photographer will have to indicate where a sighting starts and where a sighting
ends. Taking ‘blanks’ can do this. After every sighting, the photographer should take
a picture of something inside the boat, or anything else that is clearly not a picture of a
dorsal fin. The observer writes down on the back of the sighting sheet at which
number of the film a blank has been taken.
In this example, a
blank had been
blank taken on 27
From number 26
Pilot whales to 20 the
tried to take
pictures of dorsal
blank fins of pilot
The sighting stopped after photo number 20 had been taken, so 19
was taken as a blank.
If the photographer is almost sure he or she knows
the name of a dolphin of which a picture has just
Picacho been taken, the observer can write the name down
in the appropriate row. The same when the
photographer has taken a picture of a cetacean he
or she is sure of it is a male, female, juvenile or
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Sometimes a film roll has to be changed during a sighting, because it is full. This has
to be indicated on the sighting sheet as well and a new sighting sheet should be used
for the new film roll. When inserting a new film roll, make sure to put the sticker of
the new film roll on the camera and take the old one off and put it on the case of the
used film roll.
Page 1 / 2 previous / next Film # _X112__
When a new film roll is used a new sighting sheet is taken
and on that sheet is indicated that the sighting started on
another film roll (in this case X112). Also indicate that the
new sighting sheet is page 2
Page 1 / 2 previous / next Film # _X113_
On the ‘old’ sighting sheet should be indicated that it
continuous with another film on another sighting sheet.
The negative processing sheet
After photos have been taken and developed, the identification still has to be done.
Identification of the dorsal fins is done with the lightbox and photo-id form B, the
negative processing sheet.
Appendix 3 shows a full size negative processing sheet. How to fill it out is explained
below. As a volunteer you shouldn’t fill in anything behind the words written in Italic.
In this box you fill in
Neg. nos of individuals the number of the
numbers of the nega-
…26… To… 20… tives between the
blanks. In this example
the blanks were at 27
Film number: X112
Total number of sightings on film: 3 and 19.
In the upper left corner, you have to
fill in the film number, which you can
find on the sighting sheet as well as on
the pack with the negatives in it.
Check both before writing down the
film number. The number of sightings
will mostly correspond with the
number of sighting sheets, unless a
film roll has been changed during a
sighting and thus two forms were used
for one sighting.
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The columns with numbers 1 to 10 are used for the actual identification of the photographed animals.
As soon as you see negative of a fin which is clear and taken from the sight, in other words, you could
probably identify an individual with this negative, then write the number of the negative down in one of
the boxes under number 1. Write it down in the column ‘LHF’ if the cetacean is swimming to the left
and in ‘RHF’ if it is going to the right. When there is more than one fin in a negative, then write a small
letter behind the number. Assign the letters in the way you read this page: from left to right and top to
After you write down a number you go through the other
1 2 3
negatives in the same sighting to look for other negatives
LHF RHF LHF RHF LHF RHF
with the same fin in it. Write these down in the same block
of columns (either LHF or RHF). After you have checked
all the other negatives for the same individual you move 26 25a 23 22
to the next negative look for new individuals. 25b 24a 212 2 2 2 2
205 5 5 5 5
When you have clear negatives of more than ten individuals a a a a a
in one sighting, then use the second ten columns on the
sheet to continue, or take a new form.
2 2 2 2 2
5 5 5 5 5
b b b b b
Name / ID and No
2 2 2 2 2
If you can actually identify an 2 2 2 2 2
individual using the database
or the didactics, then put the 2 2 2 2 2
name and/or number of that 4 4 4 4 4
individual in this box. If you are
not sure it is the same fin, but it
looks a lot like one in the 2 2 2 2 2
database, then just write a 3 3 3 3 3
question mark behind it.
2 2 2 2 2
1 1 1 1 1
a the a
In the row ‘Picture with best quality / angle’, you write down a a a
number of the picture of which you think it has the best angle and
quality out of the ones you wrote down in the columns above. A co-
Picture with best ordinator will double-check this.
quality / angle
In the ‘To be scanned’ box you can write down the numbers of the
To be scanned negatives you think should be scanned. This can be because you
think they should be added to the database of fins because it is not
in there yet, or because it is of better quality than the fin of the that
is in there already.
At the bottom of the sheet you write down the numbers of the negatives that don’t
need to be scanned, and thus need to be disregarded from the 2
2 2 sighting. You can also
2 2 2
write it down if you have seen other species on the film, but you didn’t do 0
0 0 0 0 0
them. As a bottlenose dolphin researcher for instance, you will often fill in here that
you saw pilot whales as well. If there is a sighting that goes on, on another film roll,
then indicate this in the lower right corner.
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