Identifying Marine Life

Friday, November 13th, 2020 | Blog

Marine mammals in the wild are rarely easy to identify. Even under ideal conditions, observers may not enjoy more than a glimpse: a splash, a spout, a brief view of a dorsal fin, head, back or flukes – seen, more often than not, at a considerable distance. Rough weather, glare from reflected sunlight, mist, fog, twilight and other poor visual conditions frequently compound the problem.

To confuse matters further, closely related cetacean species often appear so much alike that even experts are sometimes confused. In the case of certain little known species, a reliable taxonomy has never been established; even a good look at a live mammal and comparison with an ‘in hand specimen will not necessarily settle the question.

No surprise, then, that even experts must often log a marine mammal sighting as ‘unidentified, “probable’ or ‘possible’, particularly in the case of closely related species and sub-species. It is better to log a sighting in this way, accompanied by a detailed description of what one has actually seen, than to hazard an identification only to produce an erroneous record.

Text by Howard Martenstyn, Out of the Blue