Using the markings on a dolphin’s belly to ID it? Yes, it’s true!
Last month, we were working on analyzing some photos from a dolphin encounter in the Matanzas River, when we came across a photo of a dolphin surfacing upside down, belly in the air. Clearly this individual was a female, and we wanted to know who it was. We began looking at markings on that individual, and quickly noticed a “patch” on the side of the dolphin’s belly. It appeared intricately designed, and we wondered if this may be a way to identify individual dolphins – kind of like a “stamp” on a dolphin that is unique to every individual. We gathered together other photos, did comparing, and identified the upside down dolphin as Zatitu. Could these “belly patches” be another way to identify individual dolphins?
Well, for those that have them, yes. Not every individual dolphin has a belly patch, but for those that do they do appear to be unique.
Through our work over last few years researching wild dolphins, we have learned that every individual is unique in many ways. It is truly fascinating just how much they are all different from each other, even though at first glance all Bottlenose Dolphins may look identical! Now, using “belly patches” to identify dolphins will open up a whole new world of insight into their behavior and community structure! We will now be able to identify a dolphin by just seeing its belly, even if its face, dorsal fin, and flukes are out of sight!