Program Operations

Program Operations

Research since 1970 has been based on compiling longitudinal records of individually distinctive bottlenose dolphins from the central west coast of Florida.

Identification efforts have occurred from Tampa Bay through Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound and associated Gulf of Mexico waters.

The most intensive efforts have focused on the long-term resident community of dolphins in Sarasota Bay, spanning at least five concurrent generations.

During 1970-1976, individual identifications were made primarily through tagging and resighting or tracking.  Since the mid-1970s, photographic identification has been the primary tool for compiling individual records.

Dolphins are identified from photos showing natural markings, tag scars, and from freeze-brands applied during capture-release activities for health assessment.  Freeze-brands, applied to the dorsal fin and to the body below the dorsal fin, serve as a kind of “medical ID bracelet” and facilitate unambiguous identifications of dolphins through time, even if the identifying features on their dorsal fins change.  Over 260 dolphins have been freeze-branded since the inception of the program in 1970.

More than 480,000 dolphin photographs from 1970 to the present are currently archived by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.  They have been collected during more than 41,000 dolphin group sightings.

Our digital photographic identification catalog currently includes over 7,500 images, including over 4,800 distinct individual dolphins (alive and dead) plus some of their calves (young animals are often not individually distinctive).

The sighting database results from photographic records yielding more than 113,000 sightings of these identifiable individuals, over periods of more than 42 years.  Some individuals have been identified more than 1,400 times.

This year, we have transitioned our long-term photo identification data sets into FinBase, a relational database designed specifically for bottlenose dolphin photo identification data and images.

This database should improve our work-flow as well as the accessibility of data and images for reference and analysis.  It will also facilitate submission of images and associated data for GoMDIS, discussed elsewhere in this issue. In the future, we hope to integrate this new photo-ID database with our dolphin health and focal follow databases.