Courtesy of Marine Mammal Science (Novel method for identifying individual cetaceans using facial features and symmetry: A test case using dolphins).

On his latest and sixth crossing of the Catalina Channel, Hank Wise encountered cetaceans during his mainland-to-Catalina swim (i.e., a whale and dolphins) – a treat that many open water swimmers enjoy in the Pacific Ocean and other locations.

It may be that Wise could one day recognize individual dolphins simply by looking them in the eye, if he met them frequently enough during his ocean swims.

Tilen Genov of Slovenia’s University of Primorska, Tina Centrih of the Slovenian Marine Mammal Society, Andrew Wright of George Mason University, and Gi-Mick Wu of the Scottish Oceans Institute reported in Marine Mammal Science an identification method using facial information with common bottlenose dolphins.

They write in their published paper (Novel method for identifying individual cetaceans using facial features and symmetry: A test case using dolphins), “In dolphins, dorsal fins are typically used for identification, but not all individuals or species are sufficiently marked. We show that facial features in bottlenose dolphins are long-term and consistent across the left and right sides, and may enable calves (which tend to have unmarked fins) to be re-identified after weaning, thus increasing cross-generational knowledge.

This novel method can complement dorsal fin identification by helping document mark changes over time and reduce false negative or positive errors. It also shows that current identification methods can still be improved. With increasing prevalence of digital photography and computer-aided matching, it may become more viable to use ‘unconventional’ means of identification. We encourage other researchers to explore their photographic records for similar discoveries.”

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