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Cetacean photo-identification

Project Description

In order to accurately identify individuals, the photo-identification technique is a vital and non-invasive tool in biological and ecological studies that utilizes naturally occurring marks on animals, in particular in the dorsal fin, fluke or others parts of the body of cetaceans. The development of photo-identification, in conjunction with the development of models and programs which can be used to process photos, has allowed the study of a wide array of subjects such as: survival rate, population trends, social structure, mating system, population size, movement patterns, and habitat use. The goal of the photo-ID project is to apply this technique to the cetacean species observed in the region and expand upon the photographic catalog which includes data on: Fin Whales, Sperm Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins and Short-finned Pilot Whale. These catalogs will be shared and compared with others in the Gulf of California to provide information about habitat use to identify critical areas and to describe animal movements for resident and migrant populations. Photo-ID projects in 1997-2003, 2009, 2010 and 2011 have been carried out. 

Project Results

Since 2009 the Center has completed 207 sightings where the photo-identification technique generated approximately 18,000 photographs of nine species of cetaceans. The species with the largest number of photographs are the Fin Whale, the Bottlenose Dolphin, and the Short-finned Pilot Whale, respectively. To date, the following number of each species has been photographically differentiated: 141 Fin Whales, 191 Bottlenose Dolphin, 415 Short-finned Pilot Whales, 10 Humpback Whales, and a few Bryde’s Whales, Gray Whales and Sperm Whales. Please note, these numbers are likely to decrease as a result of comparisons with recaptured individuals.

From 1997-2003, 286 Fin Whale sightings were recorded. 148 Fin Whales were photographed and cataloged and 14 matches were found when Prescott’s catalog was compared to the UABCS’s. Between 1997 and 2000, 18 outings were conducted, during which 75 sightings of Sperm whales were recorded and 38 Sperm whales were photographed and cataloged; no matches were found with CICIMAR’s catalog. 

The Marine Mammal Program contributed to a catalog of Fin Whales produced by CONANP, which can be viewed by clicking here. 

Reports & Publications

  1. Prescott College Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies (2011). Research and Conservation Program Report 2007-2011.
  2. Prescott College Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies (2010). Research and Conservation Program Report 2007-2010. 34 pp.
  3. Sotack, E. (2011). Photo Identification of Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) in the Midriff Island Region. Prescott College Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies. Senior Project for Prescott College Inc. 14 pp.
  4. Pérez-Puig, H., Sotack, E., & Meltzer, L. (2012). Foto-identificación en calderones de aletas cortas (Globicephala macrorhynchus) en Bahía de Kino y la Región de las Grandes Islas del Golfo de California. "XXXIII Reunión Internacional para el Estudio de los Mamíferos Marinos" Celebrada en San Patricio Melaque, Jalisco, Guadalajara del 6 al 9 de mayo de 2012. Presentación en formato poster.
  5. Pérez-Puig, H.. 2013. Cetáceos de la Región Oriental de las Grandes Islas del Golfo de California y las aguas adyacentes de Bahía de Kino. Centro de Estudios y Ecológicos Prescott College A.C. Calle Cádiz y Puerto Vallarta #151, Kino Nuevo, Bahía de Kino, Sonora, México 48 pp.