A Introduction into Biological Photo-Identification and the Power it holds
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

May 21, 2009

Due to the recent advances in digital photography, the technique of photo identification has been used in two of my most recent cetacean studies and efforts as a marine biologist. As such, I believe that Photo Identification holds vast possibilities for the future study on of a variety of species with even grander implications. You may find a brief introduction to the subject below. This Photo Identification introduction was completed in part by a fellow colleague by the name of Caeley Thacker, graduate of the University of Victoria. When our combined interest in the subject was spurred in the summer of 2008, we established a photo ID catalog of Grey Whales (Eschrichtius robustus) along the Southwest BC coast of Vancouver Island. The Photo ID Data basis was created at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre for the continual study of Grey Whales by staff and in part for the continual education of students working at the centre.

Photo identification of individuals was initially developed for studying the life history and movements of giraffes in 1966 (Daggand Foster 1976). Foster was interested in studying herd structure of giraffes in Nairobi Park and noticed that individuals could be identified by their unique pattern of dark blotches on its body. Foster photographed the neck of each giraffe from the left side, categorized the photos by sex and age of the animal, and then further subdivided by coat markings. 

This method of identifying individual animals in wild populations has also been used for cheetahs in the central plains of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Photographing individual cheetahs began in the early 1960s and has continued to the present day. Researchers noticed that, like giraffes, cheetah pelage shows unique spot patterns that remain constant through life, allowing for individuals to be recognized and followed through time (Kelly 2001). More recently, 3-D computer-matching systems have been used to process and match photographs of cheetahs to identify individuals. As the surface of the head or flank of a cheetah is non-planar, the coat pattern changes with different postures or camera angles. This model-based computer-matching system accounts for this and makes matches by recognizing corresponding points, such as shoulder and hip, on pairs of photos (Kelly 2001).

Many marine mammal species have been studied using photo-identification techniques, including 27 cetacean species (Kelly 2001). Whale photo-identification studies first began in the 1960s and 1970s (Mizroch2007). Initially, researchers used either 35 mm slide film or high-resolution black and white film to document individual whales. From this they could determine distribution and migration, calving rate, and age of sexual maturity of whales by photographing whales in feeding areas and breeding grounds (Mizroch et al. 1990). In 1990 The International Whaling commission (IWC) compiled studies on marine mammals that have used photo-identification and computers to assist in matching photographs of new individuals (Hammond et al. 1990). For many species, the photograph collections are large and the need for accurate programs and organized databases is substantial. Since 1990, the technology has increased tremendously for computer-based photo-identification and has become specialized for cetacean species (Kelly 2001).

Literature Cited:

Dagg, A.I. and Foster, J.B. 1976. The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behavior, and Ecology. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. New York. Pp 115-117.

Hammond, P.S., Mizroch, S.A. and Donovan, G.P. 1990. Individual Recognition of Cetaceans: Use of Photo-Identification and Other Techniques to Estimate Population Parameters. Report of the International Whaling Commission. Special Issue 12.

Kelly, M.J. 2001. Computer-Aided Photograph Matching in Studies Using IndividualIdentification: An Example from Serengeti Cheetahs. Journal of Mammalogy. 82(2): 440-449.

Mizroch, S.A., Beard, J.A. and Lynde, M. 1990. Computer Assisted Photo-Identification of Humback Whales. Rep. Int. Whal. Commn. Special Issue 12. 

Related Articles

A Brave New World – The arrival of AI through flow of logic

A Brave New World – The arrival of AI through flow of logic

A Brave New World was written by Aldous Huxley and discusses just how a technological future might look like for earthlings. It sits atop a list of other noted books including 1984 (George Orwell) and The Foundation Series (Isaac Asimov) which eerily predict the...

Sphere of influence – the expanding/collapsible bubble

Sphere of influence – the expanding/collapsible bubble

Those who have known me for a while have heard occasionally about efforts to bring to market ocean wave driven pumps. Since 2009, I have been involved in the development of sustainable wave energy in some form or another. I still consult on the projects from time to...

The Ecosystem Engineer

The Ecosystem Engineer

Earlier this summer I went on a camping trip with my family. We drove up from New Mexico to Silverton Colorado and took the steam train down towards Durango. A ways down the canyon on the Animas River, we got off and spent two days camping along the river. It was...

Stay Up to Date by Following Us on Instagram

Follow Us

Be the first to see what’s new, workshop announcements, and yurt life on Poncha Pass.

Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Summer 2023 flyer earthship workshop
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Spring 2023 Workshop group eating out

COME RELAX WITH US

Come stay if you are looking for a peaceful and comfortable place to hang your hat while relaxing and adventuring around in nature. And after adventuring don’t forget to regenerate at a cellular level with our wood-burning sauna and cold plunge tub, immersed in good old fashioned nature therapy.