California Whales Research Project

Whale ID


Since 1989, the Oceanic Society has assisted Cascadia Research Collective with collecting data on humpback and blue whale distribution and relative abundance off San Francisco Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, Baja California, and Costa Rica.

Click HERE for research report on the California/Costa Rica connection.

In 2008, the Oceanic Society launched The California Whales Project in cooperation with Cascadia Research Collective in order to optimize data collection opportunities. Amateur photographers are invited to assist with the study. Whale biologist Isidore Szczpaniak has established a system for the whale watchers, fishers, or recreational boaters to become involved.

A word about Photo Identification

The use of natural body markings has been a tool utilized by biologists to identify individual whales and dolphins for over 30 years. Along the west coast of North America, studies on humpback whales, blue whales, minke whales, gray whales, killerwhales, pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins have used photo-identification of individuals as part of their study methodology.

In other parts of the world other species of whales and dolphins were also studied using photo-identification of individuals as part of the methodology. As with humans individual whales and dolphins have a different "look." Scars, color patterns on the body and flukes, dorsal fin size and shape and other natural features (such as callosities on right whales) and markings all help to identify individual animals. The feature used for photo-identification varies with the species.

Photographic identification is a less invasive way of identifying individual animals than the methods used in the past such as tagging the animals. Being able to identify individual animals in the brief period of the time whales and dolphins appear at the surface allows scientists to obtain information on site fidelity and usage, distribution, migration patterns, population estimates, population growth, social activity and other behavior and reproductive activity and success.

For the last 25 years photographs taken by Oceanic Society naturalists trips have been shared with other scientists to add to the data base of information on the whales and dolphins of the North Pacific. In 2008, the Oceanic Society is expanding their photo-identification research activities to include members of the public.

View our Whale Photography Instructions.

Get Involved:

You can help support and even assist with research activities. There are two ways for you to become more involved.

  1. The Whale Adoption Program Click HERE will allow you, for a fee, to "adopt a whale." You will be able to chose from a whale identified in the Gulf of the Farallones or Pacific West Coast. You will receive a packet of information about the whale including when it was sighted. You will alsoreceive yearly updates via email of the sightings of the whale you chose to adopt.

  2. The second way for you to become involved is for you to submit your photos of any whales you saw on your Oceanic Society trip, or while sailing on your own. If the animal is one not sighted before, with your permission your photo will become part of the identification catalog.

    Here are the INSTRUCTIONS for submitting photos.



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