Photographic Identification

Some species of cetaceans have naturally occurring markings on their bodies, flukes, or dorsal fins.  In 1955, David K Caldwell realised that it was possible to tell individual bottlenose dolphins apart and by the 1970s, photo ID was being used to study a number of different cetacean species.

Photographic records of these scars, nicks, notches, or colour patterns can be used to uniquely identify individuals and can be associated with other sightings data, e.g. location, group size/ structure and behaviour. By tracking individuals over time and between location, long term photo-identification studies now provide insight into habitat use, movements and life history characteristics of individual cetaceans.

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Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)

Risso’s Dolphin are frequent visitors to Orkney waters but very little is known about their movements in the region, whether they are simply passing through or why they visit Orkney at all. OMMRI’s development of a photographic ID catalogue for Orkney individuals, will enable us to work with other organisations, such as WDC, to track the movements of identified individuals and develop useful data about a species that is so poorly understood within the UK.

We are actively seeking photos of Risso’s dolphin taken within Orkney to help with these efforts. Even if you think they may not be suitable, if you have  photos then please get in touch with us at

Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

The Scottish Killer Whale Photo Identification Catalogue 2021 is available online and can be downloaded here (external link)