Thursday, June 4, 2009

Raising awareness on Photo-ID methods used in marine animals

Photo identification is a non-invasive method for identifying individual animals of a species in the wild. It is based on distinct marking or patterns visible on each animal that are stable over time and has been shown to work well on a number of animal species. In the marine field its use with Cetaceans and Whale Sharks, allows researchers to stay at a distance, thus ensuring that they have minimal impact on the animal’s behaviour.

Photo-ID is slowly replacing standard marking techniques, such as using marker tags, which are intrusive and can be stressful to the animal during the application and re-capture process.

Within the Indian Ocean, several organisations have been using Photo-ID on their study animals and three recently came together to give presentations of their work:

MCSS uses the spot patterns on whale sharks to identify individual animals that visit Seychelles every year. These are then compared to sightings from around the region and also submitted to the ECOCEAN database.

Globice identifies individual Humpback Whales and the larger species of Dolphins using the shape of the dorsal fin and the colour pattern of the tail fluke; and

Kelonia has developed a photo-ID method that relies on the number, position and shapes of scales in profile shots of marine turtles.

During the recent MCSS visit to Reunion the opportunity was taken to organise two mini-symposiums with these three organisations presenting their photo-ID methods. One presentation at the Kelonia facility was aimed at the general public while a second, slightly more technical presentation was targeted at students and researchers from the University of Reunion.

Photo Identification of marine mega-fauna, poster by Kelonia Marine Turtle Observatory.

The use of these non-invasive techniques has great application for the regional sharing of data on these species and we look forward to greater regional cooperation in these efforts.

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