Dolphin Dorsal Fin Photo Identification
Clearwater Marine Aquarium initiated the dolphin dorsal fin photo identification study in August 2013 to document the ecology of the bottlenose dolphin population of Clearwater Bay and Clearwater Harbor. Opportunistic photos of bottlenose dolphins are taken during CMA’s Dolphin Adventure eco-boat tour using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Dolphin SMART guidelines.
Like a human fingerprint, no two dorsal fins are exactly the same. Each dorsal fin has its own unique shape, height, thickness, markings and notches. Also, a dolphin’s dorsal fin acquires various scars and markings during the dolphin’s lifetime. Because of their unique nature, pictures of dorsal fins are used to identify wild dolphins. Individual identification of members during photo identification studies assist with the attainment of information on group structure, site fidelity, movement patterns and population size.
With the receipt of a General Authorization for Scientific Research permit from NOAA, CMA expanded its wild dolphin dorsal identification research program in August of 2016. The Research Team currently surveys the intracoastal waters and three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico for three counties (Pinellas, Pasco, and a portion of Hernando). Future plans include expanding the survey area further out into the Gulf of Mexico.
To date, our field biologists have identified and cataloged more than 126 dolphins using pictures taken of their dorsal fins
Rescue Team Data
The Rescue Team also continues to contribute to the mark-recapture research study conducted by Dr. Ann Weaver and Mote Marine Laboratory by sharing photographs taken of stranded dolphins’ dorsal fins and flukes.
Research conducted and photographs collected under the NMFS Scientific Research Permit No. 19749.