SEFSC Dolphin Photo ID

NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC)

Dataset credit

NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, South Florida Bottlenose Dolphin Photo-identification Cooperative


Primary contact Joseph Contillo NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center
Data entry Ei Fujioka Duke University



The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is responsible for monitoring the populations of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the southeastern United States waters. The main goals of this monitoring are detection of large-scale change in bottlenose dolphin abundance and establishment of archival databases for long-term trend detection.

In 1990, the National Oceanographic Administration (NOAA), NMFS, Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) Miami Laboratory initiated low-level monitoring of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, in Biscayne Bay, Florida using photographic identification (photo-ID) methods to gather information on the numbers of bottlenose dolphins that utilize this area.

Biscayne Bay has been greatly influenced by the development of the Miami area in the past 75 years. Information from 12 years of photo-ID surveys has confirmed the presence of a relatively large, long-term resident, core population of bottlenose dolphins in the bay. Their role as apex predators characterizes these animals as excellent indicators of the overall health of Biscayne Bay.

This dataset includes sighting information for both identified and unidentified dolphins, dating from 1990 to 2004.


The bottlenose dolphin is a heterogeneous species found throughout temperate and tropical waters. In past years, aerial surveys, photo-identification studies, and, more recently, genetic studies have begun to divide this worldwide species into population stocks. In 1998, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reported to the Marine Mammal Commission that there appears to be at least four discrete population stocks of bottlenose dolphin in the United States Atlantic waters: a nearshore migratory population that migrates seasonally between North Carolina and northern Florida; year-round resident populations in coastal embayments; an offshore population inhabiting deep water; and an intermixing resident and migratory population that overlap seasonally. It has been shown through a variety of photo-identification studies that populations of bottlenose dolphin inhabit the various embayments along the coast of Florida. Knowledge of population stock structure is critical to developing management plans and understanding how stressors impact individual populations.

Researchers have found that photo-identification is one of the best ways to study populations of bottlenose dolphin in near shore environments. Unlike aerial and ship-board surveys, individual dolphins can be identified and tracked temporally and spatially, giving investigators a more comprehensive picture of population stock structure. Photo-identification has been used to study various land and aquatic animals and our techniques are constantly being refined and improved.

In January 2000, a meeting was held at the NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC Miami Laboratory to establish a South Florida Bottlenose Dolphin Photo-identification Cooperative. The purpose of creating the cooperative was to facilitate sharing of data and ideas of members through the development of a web-site. The web-site allows researchers from each of the representative photo-identification projects immediate access to current and updated photos and developments from all south Florida projects. The cooperative also links the various south Florida photo-identification projects, increasing the geographic coverage from Port Everglades through Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay and the lower Keys.

We also invite members of the general public who are interested in our projects to visit our web-site, view our fin images and become more familiar with our work.

Supplemental information

A survey may contain more than one sighting, each of which records identified dolphins, though IDs are not included in the dataset. Non-identified dolphins are also included in the datasets. Those who would like to access ID information can contact the person in the contact information. Also you can browse dorsal photos of identified dolphins on the SEFSC's web site.

When a group of dolphins is sighted, the sighting event begins and the location is recorded as a start point. While observing and photographing the dolphins, the research vessel pursues the herd. When the researchers are satisfied that the animals have been photographed and sighting data have been recorded, the location is recorded as an end point.

The dataset will be updated every several months, though irregularly, when the new survey data accumulate.




Sighting location is represented by the location of the start point of the sighting event. Dolphin IDs are not shown here. However you may contact the contact person with this regard.

Attributes described below represent those in the original dataset provided by the provider.
All attributes are included in the downloadable file (CSV or ESRI File Geodatabase) for "Complete Set of Dataset".

Attributes in dataset

Attribute (table column)Description
seriesDolphin ID
dateObserved date
sightingSighting No
latitudeLatitude in decimal degrees
longitudeLongitude in decimal degrees
end_latEnd latitude
end_lonEnd longitude
obs_timeTime of observation (local time)
end_timeEnd time
species_tsnITIS Taxonomic Serial Number added by OBIS-SEAMAP
speciesSpecies observed
scientificSpecies scientific name
countNumber of animals observed
geomdefinition not provided
oidUnique ID number (generated by OBIS-SEAMAP)
Marine mammals2,443
Sea turtles0
Rays and sharks0
Other species0
Non spatial0
Non species0
Date, Begin1990-07-26
Date, End2005-12-28
Temporal prec.111111
Latitude25.26 - 25.90
Longitude-80.37 - -80.09
Coord. prec.4 decimal digits
Data typePhoto ID
Traveled (km)0
Contr. through
Sharing policy CC0 no rights reserved
Shared with OBIS
GBIF (via DOI)
See metadata in static HTML
See metadata in FGDC XML
See download history / statistics