Become a citizen scientist

The resolution of the ongoing Norwegian Orca ID-project greatly depends on the photographic effort. Indeed, the greater the amount of available photographs, the greater number of identified individuals. Because Norwegian Orca Survey cannot cover the entire Norwegian coastline and cannot be in the field at all times, we need and appreciate your help.


By sharing photographs from your encounter with killer whales, you become an observer and a citizen-scientist in this long-term project. Your photographs will 

be cropped to emphasise the dorsal fin area and will not be used for any other purposes. The record of individuals identified from your pictures will be added to the sighting database and your full name will be acknowledged as a contributor on this webpage.

If you wish to dedicate time photographing killer whales, check our guidelines below for guidance on camera settings and specific features you may want to photograph for ID-purposes. 

Guidelines to ID-photograph killer whales

The following guidelines will assist observers in taking quality photographs that can be used for identification purposes. In short, photo-identification consists in photographing killer whales that will be identified at the individual level. To do so, high resolution photographs of the dorsal fin, saddle patch and eye patch are required. It is observable features such as nicks in the dorsal fin, along with pigmentation and scarring patterns of the saddle patch, that will be used for identification of individuals. The eye-patch can also greatly assist in identifying individuals whenever photographs of the dorsal fin area are of poor quality or not available. 


I- Gears and settings

A digital SLR camera body, a telephoto zoom and a memory card are required to ID-photograph the whales, provided that you are familiar with the following basic, but crucial, settings.


   1- Shutter speed

On their digital SLR camera, we recommend observers to use the 'Shutter priority' mode to photograph whales. Ideally, a minimum shutter speed of 1/800s should be set in order to freeze the whale in motion. If light conditions are good enough, it is possible to increase the shutter speed even more. Shooting with too low shutter speeds would lead to motion blur.


   2- Aperture

When shooting under the 'Shutter priority' mode, the camera adjusts the aperture automatically, based on available light and to fulfill the input speed settings. During the winter months in Arctic Norway, and because the sun remains below the horizon, only poor light is available for a couple of hours a day. These conditions constitute a real challenge for photographing dark moving subjects such as whales. Therefore, shooting with a f/2.8 telephoto zoom, which transfers much more light than regular lenses, is recommended. 


   3- ISO

ISO setting is used to compensate poor light conditions. However, it is worth remembering that increasing ISO also increases noise on photographs, resulting in killer whales' features becoming undistinguishable. Most camera bodies can handle ISO values up to 640 to 800, with full frame cameras being better at handling high ISO. We advice photographers to test the limits of their camera in various light conditions beforehand. We also do not recommend using the automatic ISO setting, which can potentially lead to wrong choices and ruin photographs.  



II- What should be photographed?

The body parts of interest for photo-identification of individual whales are the dorsal fin, the saddle patch and the eye-patch. All these elements will be used for building the complete ID of each whale. To be certain of what eye-patch belongs to whom, photographs should be taken as a continuous series (as shown below), enabling for linking both dorsal fin+saddle patch and eye patch.

It is important that observers equally photograph all the whales surfacing in a group. In that manner, all group members are likely to be identified, important condition to fulfill when further studying social structure and stable units. If possible, priority should be given to photographing the left side of the whales.

The content of this catalogue, including identification images and illustrations, is not to be reproduced or used without permission. 

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