Photo-identification is a technique used into identify and track individuals of a wild animal study population over time. It relies on capturing photographs of distinctive characteristics such as skin patterns and scars from the animal. In cetaceans, the dorsal fin area and tail flukes are commonly used.
Photo-identification is generally used as an alternative to other, invasive methods of tagging that require attaching a device to each individual. The technique enables precise counting, rather than rough estimation, of the number of animals in a population. It also allows researchers to perform longitudinal studies of individuals over many years, yielding data about the lifecycle, lifespan, migration patterns, and social relationships of the animals.
Species that are studied using photo-identification techniques include:
- Killer whales
- Humpback whales
- Whale sharks
- Manta rays - see Manta Matcher
- Octopuses (Wunderpus photogenicus)
- Michael Bigg, who pioneered the photo-identification of killer whales
- Obee, Bruce; Graeme Ellis (1992). Elaine Jones, ed. Guardians of the Whales: The Quest to Study Whales in the Wild. North Vancouver, British Columbia: Whitecap Books. ISBN 0-88240-428-8.