Skip to content
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Green Whale
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling
Gray whale (eschrichtius robustus) The eye of  a gray whale. Pacific coast Mexico.

Save the whale, save the world – because our lives depend on it

Carl Sagan famously called our planet a 'pale blue dot' when he saw the first...
Katie looking for dolphins

My magical island adventure – proof you don’t have to leave the UK to have amazing dolphin encounters

You don't have to travel outside of the UK to enjoy awesome wildlife encounters. Around...
Risso's dolphin: WDC/Nicola Hodgins

Remarkable Risso’s dolphins – how we’re studying them to protect them

And just like that, another season of field research studying remarkable Risso's dolphins came to...
Dead dolphins on the beach

Faroe Islands whale and dolphin slaughter – what have we done and what are we doing?

The massacre of 1,428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður on the Faroe Islands on 12th...
© WDC

The horror – reflecting on the massacre of 1,428 dolphins on the Faroe Islands

Like you and millions of people around the globe, I felt horrified by the news...
Bottlenose dolphins in never-ending lockdown at Loro Parque, Tenerife

The whales and dolphins trapped in never-ending lockdown – hearing their stories

Every whale and dolphin in captivity is an individual with a life history and around...
Orcalab

Surviving not living. Why we have to end lockdown for captive whales and dolphins

I first visited OrcaLab in British Columbia over 30 years ago and vividly remember my...
Shorewatchers

Our volunteer citizen scientists are making waves in Scotland

I'm lucky enough to do a job that I love. For the last seven years...

Unlocking the secrets of whale and dolphin societies

Arguably more than anything else, photo-identification, or “photo-ID,” opened the door to our appreciation of whales and dolphins as individuals. WDC researchers and close collaborators have had a key role in the development and use of photo-ID, and it’s still the fundamental tool that we use in our work with North Atlantic right whales off Massachusetts, USA; Risso’s dolphins in Scotland; orcas in Kamchatka, Baird’s beaked whales in the Commander Islands, both in Russia; bottlenose dolphins in Scotland and in South Australia; and humpback whales in various studies in the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Recently I was asked by Hakai Magazine, a new online magazine, to write a story about a legendary conference that helped launch whale photo-ID as the primary tool of whale research, some 40 years ago, and “where we have got to” since then.

Where we have got to is that our studies of individual whales and whale families and pods have led now to a consideration of culture and the rights of whales — work that is central to what WDC is all about.

I loved researching and writing this story, and it forms part of the background for a new book I’m writing on what we’ve learned from field studies of whales and dolphins.

If you like the story, please share it, and we welcome your comments.

Humpback whale tail flukes showing individual identification. Humpback whale fluke © FEROP

About Erich Hoyt

Erich is a Research Fellow at WDC and Co-chair of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force. He is a director of the Far East Russian Orca Project (FEROP). View references to Erich's published material on Google Scholar. Follow Erich on Twitter.