[MARMAM] New publication: Adapting photo-ID methods for difficult to ID species

Cindy Elliser cindy.elliser at pacmam.org
Fri Apr 8 13:56:31 PDT 2022

Dear Marmam community,

On behalf of my co-authors, I am happy to announce the publication of our
recent paper in Mammalian Biology:

"Adapting photo‑identification methods to study poorly marked cetaceans: a
case study for common dolphins and harbor porpoises"

Full view-only access to the article can be found here:

This article is a contribution to the special issue on “Individual
Identification and Photographic Techniques in Mammalian Ecological and
Behavioural Research – Part 1: Methods and Concepts” — Editors: Leszek
Karczmarski, Stephen C.Y. Chan, Daniel I. Rubenstein, Scott Y.S. Chui and
Elissa Z. Cameron.

Historically, traditional photo-identification (photo-ID) methods have been
applied to cetaceans with relatively small group sizes, closed and/or small
populations, distinctive dorsal fin nicks and/or notches and behavior
allowing for photographic capture. Conversely, species with larger group
and/or population sizes that often occur in open populations, which have
less distinctive natural markings and/or whose behavior is prohibitive for
photographic capture, have not been the focus of many photo-ID studies. We
review two successful photo-ID studies on species that have less
distinctive markings, but differ in habitats and behavior: (1) common
dolphins (Delphinus delphis) that live in oceanic environments, have large
group sizes, occur in open populations and are easily observed and (2)
harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) that live in coastal environments,
have small group sizes, but are behaviorally cryptic and elusive. We
discuss how traditional photo-ID methods were adapted by incorporating
different: (1) identification sides; (2) identification features; (3)
levels of photo quality (PQ); (4) distinctiveness and; (5) methods for
error checking. Adaptations include: using symmetry of the identification
features to determine if both sides of the animal are used, using more than
one identification feature, developing a matrix for describing/ sorting by
the identification features, using three levels of distinctiveness,
incorporating PQ and distinctiveness into a flowchart to identify
distinctively marked individuals (DMIs) and applying a more rigorous review
process to identify possible errors in cataloguing. We discuss how adapting
traditional photo-ID methods will improve our ability to use photo-ID for
species not traditionally studied using this method.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.


Cindy Elliser, PhD

Research Director

Pacific Mammal Research


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