Photo-Identification In Cetaceans

It’s been a quiet week this week, so I’ve used the time to get on with the less glamorous side of scientific research – hours in front of the computer. It’s a necessary evil and one which I enjoy, in its own way, almost as much as the data collection in the field… almost.

I’ve been spending some time working on an aspect of research which is used the world over, and is one of the most powerful tools available to those studying cetaceans – photo-identification.

As with almost any animal, no two individuals will ever look exactly the same, there will be some unique feature which marks them apart from others and can be used for recognising that individual. The idea with photo-identification is to take a clear photograph of that feature in order for it to be recognised again in the future. In some species this will be easier to identify and photograph than others, and the biggest problem with cetaceans is that they spend the majority of their time underwater and out of sight. The fact that they are mammals comes to our aid though, they must return to the surface at least occasionally to breathe, so we can use this opportunity to photograph them.

Different body features are used in identifying different species. In the giant blue whale, the pattern of spots along the side of the body is used, in right whales it is the unique clusters of white markings, or ‘callosities’ on their head, and in humpback whales it is the distinctive black and white patterning on the underside of the tail flukes. Here in Tenerife we are focusing on the resident species of short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins, both of which are recognised by their dorsal fins. Each dorsal fin is a slightly different shape, but this alone is not distinctive enough. Over the course of their life an animal will acquire nicks, notches, and scratches on the fin which make each one as unique as our fingerprints.

One set of photographs of ten different pilot whales will not give you much information – other than that you saw ten different individuals. But hundreds of sets of photographs of pilot whales, taken over years of research, becomes an incredibly powerful research tool. Not only can you say how many different individuals you have ever seen, but you can also say how many times each individual has been seen, if they have ever been seen with a calf indicating they are female, if they are always seen with the same other individuals suggesting a social structure, what times of day or year they are seen showing patterns in behaviour, where they are seen indicating important locations… the list goes on and on.

It is still very early days in our photo-identification of the cetaceans here in Tenerife, but every data set has to start somewhere. Over the coming months and years the photographs you take as volunteers on this project will contribute to a catalogue of images which will be able to tell us a lot about these amazing animals.

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


First 6 Weeks As An Assistant Research Officer 

Hi, I’m Bryony, the Assistant Research Officer here on the Tenerife Whale and Dolphin Conservation Project and I have to admit I’m shocked. Shocked that I have already been here six weeks out of my six months! They say time flies when you’re having fun, so I must be enjoying myself!

From a personal career development perspective I’ve already learnt a lot, and gained fantastic experience, even in these few weeks on the project. Blessed with consistently good weather I’ve been lucky to get out on the whale watching boats regularly and to observe five different species of whales and dolphins, sometimes seeing three different species in one trip! I’ve seen bottlenose and common dolphins in other countries before but Atlantic spotted dolphins, a Bryde’s or sei whale, and short-finned pilot whale are all new species for me, and it is a great priveledge to see these fascinating animals in the wild on such a regular basis. Of course the pilot whales are really the stars of the show here, and collecting behavioural observations during encounters with these animals is giving me a great chance to get to know more about another cetacean species.

This last week on the project has been great with volunteers managing to get on boat trips throughout the week and see pilot whales every time as well as often the bonus of sighting a dolphin species too. The last trip I took with one volunteer was a three species day, seeing pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, and Atlantic spotted dolphins in the space of just a few hours!

I’m only just scratching the surface of what this beautiful island has to offer beyond the ocean. There is so much more to see and appreciate beyond the heavy tourism around the south. I enjoyed the novelty of Christmas day on the beach, but escaped the crowds on Boxing day to ‘enjoy’ a five hour hike up to the top of the cable car on Teide. The volcanic landscape there is beautiful, in its own rocky bleakness, and allows great views across the island, well worth the effort… but don’t forget a warm coat and a pair of gloves, it may be 22 C on the beach, but up there it’s cold!

Before Christmas I had the chance to experience some of the stunning green mountains of Anaga in the very north of the island. You can’t escape the amazing views on a walk through the area, and definitely another one on my recommendations list. So I’ve packed a lot in so far and I’m really looking forward to exploring even more, and of course encountering more cetaceans, there are a few more species still on my ‘to see’ list...

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.



My Top 11 Experiences From Two Weeks In Tenerife 

My two weeks here in Tenerife during the festive period has been a very memorable experience. Volunteering on this project has opened up my eyes even more on the environment, and has inspired me to get involved in other conservation projects.

My two weeks in Tenerife:

1.    5 hour hike to the highest mountain in Spain; El Teide and visiting a natural volcanic swimming pool. Cao, from Anaga excursions, was very informative and taught us about Tenerife and the history of the volcanos.


2.    Learning about cetaceans and the importance of taking pictures on their distinctive fin so that we can identify and monitor them.

3.    Learning about the Spanish and Canarian culture and language.

4.    A memorable moment was when we saw hundreds of Atlantic spotted dolphins travelling and giving us quite a show with their jumps and tail flicks. It was very memorable and I was glad to see that there are still a good amount of dolphins in the waters of Tenerife.

5.    Tenerife is an adventure island with cool places to see and plenty of sporting activities to keep you busy, from cycling to paddle boarding.

6.    The crew on the  boats are a nice cheeky bunch who kept us entertained during our boat rides.

7.    My project coordinator Bryony taught me loads about marine life.

8.    After our boat rides and inputting the data then matching the fins to identification catalogue, we read, cooked, and watched films.

9.    Doing a mini project to learn more about how plastic pollution affects our oceans and the marine life.

10.    Meeting new people.

11.    To end the trip, we celebrated New Year’s Eve in the capital city of Santa Cruz which was a lot of fun experiencing the more local culture.

By Alison Lwin - Whale & Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


An Interview with volunteer Jamie Lydon 

Jamie spent a week in Tenerife on our whale and dolphin conservation project to gain some practical knowledge of conservation techniques and marine animals – perfect for a wildlife conservation student! A week goes by very quickly… and although she had a unique experience, she would like to go back and stay longer.

Why did you choose this particular project?
I have just finished my degree in wildlife conservation and am a keen nature lover and have consequently always been interested in taking part in one of Frontier's wildlife conservation projects. I chose this project in particular as I had never seen whales or dolphins in the wild before and was excited to have that opportunity. I also wanted to further my knowledge on marine species and conservation techniques.

Which kind of work and activities did you do during your project?

During this project we boarded the whale watching boats in pairs. We gathered information on the species seen and the behaviours we encountered and tried to gain high quality fin shots in order to identify specific individuals within a species.

How did the culture and people differ to home, and what were the locals like?

The culture was similar to that of home and there was therefore no culture shock. The main thing I noticed was how friendly everybody was. We were soon recognised by our t shirts and fondly referred to as 'the Frontier girls'.

What was the accommodation like?
The accommodation was simple but pleasant consisting of a front room with a sofa and dining table, a small kitchen, 2 bathrooms and shared bedrooms. Mine consisted of 2 bunk beds and a double bed which could be shared by 6 people.

What were the staff and other volunteers like?
Since my time at the project was outside the peak summer period there was only a small number of volunteers. I found that because of this we clicked very quickly which made the project all the more enjoyable. By taking part in the project you already have a common interest in that particular area and you have plenty to talk about each day with what you have seen whilst on the boats.

What was your most amazing moment or your best memory?
I have many amazing memories from my time at the project. Seeing the wild whales and dolphins for the first time was a truly breath taking experience and I was also lucky enough to see a hammerhead shark. During my day off I went on 2 excursions. Firstly I went parasailing which was a completely new and totally incredible experience. I also went snorkelling with wild turtles which was amazing, as I never previously thought I'd be able to get so close to them. We also had the pleasure of speaking to a whale expert and one of the captains of the whale watching boats and it was fascinating to hear of their knowledge and experiences of the cetacean species of Tenerife.

Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?
I feel the work we were doing on the project was very important as it is important for conservationists to know as much information as possible about the species in order to know how best to conserve them.

What sort of wildlife did you encounter?
On most boat trips you will encounter Pilot whales as they are a resident species to Tenerife. They are very cute and lots of them had calves with them. I also encountered bottle nosed Dolphins which whilst also a resident species are only seen in 50% of boat trips so I felt very privileged. I also saw sting rays, turtles, many beautifully coloured fish and a hammerhead shark.

What were you hoping to learn while on project, and have you achieved those goals?
I was hoping to gain more knowledge about marine species and I certainly feel I have by speaking with the experts, the captains and crew on the boats and reading the information booklets at the house. We also had the opportunity to share our passion about the cetaceans and the knowledge we had acquired with the tourists on the boats and it felt great to pass this along.

Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?

My only regret from the project is staying for just 1 week as I feel there was a lot more for me to experience out there so I would recommend staying for as long as you can. I would recommend talking to the crews on the boats as they have lots of knowledge about the species and are very interesting to talk to. I would also say to take part in as many excursions as possible on your days off and definitely go snorkelling with the turtles if you can, you won't regret it!

What do you have planned next?

I plan to find myself a job within my passion of wildlife conservation and hopefully save enough money to participate in Frontiers wildlife conservation projects in the future, possibly returning to Tenerife again.

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


My Time With Frontier 

I have spent three week in Tenerife with frontier, working on the whale and dolphin experience and it has been such great experience. I would completely recommend it to anyone looking to do something new and different on their next holiday. I have loved my time in Tenerife learning about all the different whales and dolphin.

The boats where such fun and I found the crew really helpful and friendly, I really enjoyed the Peter Pan as it is so much fun seeing the Pilot whales swimming and other behaviours. Watching the whales was really intriguing and collecting the data was really enjoyable and interesting. I found the fin identification really fun and it was so exciting to find a match and identify which whale I had been watching.  

All the volunteers have been really nice and welcoming and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and getting to know new friends. I was so impressed with the wide range of volunteers and I loved hearing all of the different views and ideas. It was also great fun go on excursion with the other volunteers and the staff where very helpful in arranging trips and working out a seclude which could include everything I wanted to do, however the highlight of my trip was swimming with the turtles, and I feel it is definitely a must for any one visiting Tenerife

For anyone looking for a new experience this is the perfect project to wet your appetite and set you off to a perfect start to your gap year, but it is also perfect as a standalone project. Whether you stay for one week or ten you will love every second of Tenerife and the Frontier project.

By Rebecca - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!


What to Expect 

I spent two weeks in Tenerife and I wish I could have stayed for much longer. When I first arrived in Tenerife I was very nervous as I did not know what to expect, however as soon as I got to the house and met other volunteers I relaxed immediately.

Everyone was very nice and friendly and because of this my nerves quickly changed to excitement about what I was going to be doing on the project. On the first full day we had an induction about what we would be doing over the rest of our time in the country and once this was finished we went into Los Cristianos in the afternoon to get our bearings and soak in some of the sun.

Tuesday was the first day we got to go on the boats, we went onto the boats in pairs and had to record data and take photos every time we had an interaction. Every time we had an interaction with a species we had to record the GPS location, species present, number of adults and calves, what other boats were present, environmental conditions and what behaviours we saw displayed by the species. As well as this we had to try and take photos of the species present, particularly focussing on the fins of the pilot whales. These fin shots could then be used later for identification of that particular individual. In total I got to go on 7 boat trips and enjoyed every single one of them!

On top of going on the boats we had the opportunity to carry out many different activities. During my two weeks I visited Santa Cruz for the day, went on an excursion to Mt Teide, did paddle boarding, snorkelled with turtles and went to the waterpark Siam Park. I would definitely recommend spending your free time wisely and doing as many different activities as possible as it made the whole experience even better.

Anyone who has an interest in marine mammals would love this project, you don’t have to have much knowledge of the different species prior to going as you will learn so much during your time there. The two weeks I spent there flew by and I can’t believe it’s all over, I had so much fun out there and definitely will not forget this experience.

By Jenny - Whale & Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!


My Memories Of Tenerife 

I am Qi Wang and I come from China.I am an exchange student in Germany now. I went on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Tenerife Project from 6.Sep 2015 to 13.Sep.

On the day before I came to Tenerife I got a heavy fever and cold, very uncomfortable. And that was the time I really missed my family in China and wanted to go back as soon as possible even if I had planned well two-week travel to Italy and Spain after the project. I did not know what I should do.

On 6th.Sep, the day I took part in the project I disliked Europe when I knew no medicine store was open because it was Sunday. I thought I was so stupid to torment myself as my ears ached seriously and could not hear anything. But at the moment when I saw the unimaginable scene through the window of plane and the man sitting on my left smiled to me friendly with his thumb up and the grandma sitting on my right was so warm-hearted she asked for some medicine for me, I loved Europe again and told myself; please try two days first and then decide:-) Hold on! You will never know what would happen in the next minute and you will miss many nice things if you do not try. I think it was one of the best decisions I have made:)

I ate a very delicious muffin at airport. Xiana picked me up and took me to the home. With three levels, there are four rooms in the house. After Tracy guided me, showed me the house and introduced me to the other volunteers, the only thing I wanted to do was to sleep. 

At 8pm the dinner began. Simple home-made food by volunteers, which was very tasty. Two girls (Tracy and Elli) were always talking and laughing, others were listening and chatting. The atmosphere was very good, however, I did not understand British English and Spanish English very well. I was just sitting there with few words. I regretted I did not study English well enough:( But I began to like the place and these interesting people who were all friendly and always smiled at me. After the dinner, Xiana told us something more about the project and then let us play games and introduce ourselves. To be honest, I could only understand 1/3 what she said and always guessed and guessed, totally like a fool. And I could not understand others either but only knew they were happy :) That's enough maybe.

The next day was Monday. Tracy taught us something about Frontier and the marine animals. It was the first time I thought I was a bad student, the worst one. I could not integrate with them well and I sometimes could not help crying :( I told my friends how unhappy I was although it was really unique experience which I wanted to cherish. However, at the same time I indeed enjoyed it. It was a quite strange feeling. On that afternoon we went to beach.

We went on boat three times a week and I saw pilot whales and a dolphin.

I enjoyed the time people chatting at the table although I did not take part in it well due to my poor English. But it was true that I was willing to watch them laughing:) I like the atmosphere that each volunteer was so nice, active and positive. It maybe usual for European people to hear others say "Are you ok" "morning!" and something else polite and warm. But to me, it happens not so often. Thus, every time these nice friends sent their regards to me I was moved. I like here and these people increasingly. My favorite period was the fielding part after the dinner. I like the questions Xiana or Tracy asked us: Something about the interactions; Did you help; Did you talk to visitors. Then we shared our experiences. It seems we are a family:)

On 9.Sep I went on boat with Tracy and Elli. Pilot whales appeared but several minutes later they dived and did not swam up any longer. I was taking pictures at that time and did not know what happened, just feeling it was a pity that they left in such short time. When we went back home, Tracy and Elli told others the thing and then I knew it was because several illegal ships were hitting against the whales. I felt shamed about my foolish thought. Xiana was very angry with these ships' behavior. She was so boiled to express her anger with the non-behavior of Spanish government and then asked for suggestion from the volunteers. They talked ardently and I really hoped to understand them totally but I failed. However the situation shocked me heavily. People in my country lack environmental consciousness seriously and we need true education about our earth. We also lack and need environmentalists and volunteers to raise our sense and work for our environment .I really admired Xiana and these volunteers. That night, I was insomnic and thought about many things.

Volunteers made dinner in turn and I enjoyed the food. I appreciate getting the chance to taste home-made English food :)

We were asked to do something for the project. I translated the introduction about six kinds of whales and dolphins into Chinese. I was happy to know that Xiana likes it.

On the other two days, we went to Siam park and national park. It was also good experience:)

Now I was in the plane leaving Tenerife with so many valuable and nice memory. Thank you all for everything.

Qi Wang – Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!


A Great Sense Of Community 

Arriving at the volunteer house I was pleasantly surprised - the house is really clean and modern, with great facilities and a lovely pool, where you can cool off after a long day in the sun. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and there is a great sense of community within the house, with everyone sharing chores like cooking and cleaning. The volunteers also spend lots of social time together, relaxing in the house, going out for dinner and even going on snorkeling and diving excursions.

Going on the whale-watching boats was amazing! Each day we were assigned to a boat in pairs, allowing us to record data about the whales and dolphins. We also got to talk to the tourists, telling them all about the animals that they were seeing. We spent the first day learning about Tenerife marine life, meaning that it was easy to engage with tourists as we knew what we were talking about!
As well as project work, we did some great extra-curricular excursions. For example, we all went on the Bonodea II, one of the whale-watching catamarans, as tourists and watched the whales without having to collect data. It was really fun sharing the experience with all of the other volunteers and we had some great close encounters with both pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins.

We also had the opportunity to go on a snorkelling trip. We got really close to a number of huge turtles in a beautiful bay. In our spare time we also went for drinks in San Blas, the small town near where the volunteer house is. They host some strange but entertaining nights like fake christmasses and ABBA tribute nights! We also had time to go into the bigger towns, like Los Christianos, where there are are a variety of great yet cheap restaurants and cafes, as well as great shops to pick up souvenirs.

Overall, I've had a really great time in Tenerife. I've loved being in the sunshine and seeing whales and dolphins up close has been amazing! I've also made some great friends and know that this is an experience I will never forget!

By Rachel - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!


The Wildlife, The Friends, The Dream

Arriving at Tenerife Airport I didn't have a clue what to expect I had no idea what the house would be like or how many people there would be, all I knew was that I was going to see some fantastic wildlife and make some fab memories.

I arrived with two of my university friends and we got picked up from the airport by Xiana and we were really excited to finally be here, months of planning and waiting were finally over. The house is fab and way better than the hostel I had in my head, it's new and clean and has a fab pool, just what you need when its really hot. The house has a great system and everything runs smoothly with cooking, cleaning, health and safety briefings etc. Everone is really helpful, enthusiastic about conservation, and super chatty so it's great when you're a newbie.

Day to day the project varies, the aim is to get everyone on a boat 3 times a week but because we go out on tourist boats and they can be busy it's not always possible, but that's the just the way it is with conservation, it is a hit and miss thing to do and it's just a case of fingers crossed and hope for the best, but you just have to remember that everytime you're out there and collecting data you're making a difference.

Once you're on the boat you can just have a great time and enjoy it, you just have to remember that you're a representative of frontier, so politeness and good behaviour is expected, make sure you're speaking to tourists about the wildlife you're seeing and engage people so that they have a great time and you do too. Once you have an encounter with the Whales or Dolphins you have to make sure you take loads of pictures and get in some profie fin shots as you'll need these to ID the whales once you're back at the house.

I love going out on the boats its such a brilliant place to be and you can get really close to the Whales, they're so beautiful and it's just great to see these animals in their naturual environment and not on a documentary!

Once you're back at the house after the bus journey you can pretty much do what you like, there always data to be input and photos to download, there's the pool and you can always pop into San Blas if you like. Theres a briefing at the end of every day and cooking to be done but it's all very relaxed, and once you've finished dinner you can do what you like, we've had a quiz night, documentary evening watching Blue Planet and we've all been out to dinner and just generally had a great time!

I've only been here for a week and it sucks that I can't stay longer, the people are lovely, the wildlife is amazing and the weather is wayyy better than England! I hope that everyone has a great experience with Frontier in Tenerife and that you get some great snaps and make some new lifelong friends. :D

By Coral - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!


The Best Two Weeks!

This is an absolutely wonderful experience! I have always been an animal lover and always known that I had to help to protect them somehow, so decided this summer was the time for me! 

Little did I know how much this experience would have me completely hooked for life! I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about moving into a house for 2 weeks with complete strangers but that only added to the experience. It’s so great to share your experience with like-minded people and was blown away by how people, some of whom only half my age, could inspire me so much to continue pursuing wildlife conservation.

The Wildlife Coordinator Xiana and her assistant Tracey were absolutely excellent and always ensure everything runs to plan. Being out on boats with enthusiastic crew members seeing Pilot Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins was positively amazing and if that didn’t blow my mind enough I was even lucky enough to see a Bryde’s Whale too. It was so nice to feel I was helping to improve the future for these astonishing mammals. Also, being a primary school teacher I want to pass on my knowledge to the kids I teach in the hope that they too will appreciate the importance of wildlife conservation.

Overall the experience was really fun and something I will never forget. Amazing animals, great people, fun times, beautiful island – what more can I say!

By Alison Cooney - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

Check out what volunteers in Tenerife are up to right now!