Photographing whale sharks

The most important thing to remember when attempting to photograph a whale shark is to remain at least 3 meters (10 feet) away from the shark. Touching or blocking the path of a whale shark may negatively influence its behavior and affect scientists’ ability to photograph it again in the future.

The following types of photographs (or frame grabs from video), listed in order of importance, can be used to uniquely identify individual whale sharks.

Photographing Whale Sharks for Research

whaleshark_example_ecocean_21. Left-side spot patterning. This is the most important type of photograph to researchers. Notice that the photographer is perpendicular to the spot patterning area above the left pectoral fin. Photographs of this area at this angle maximize the use of software pattern recognition algorithms to identify this animal, within a catalog of thousands of images using its unique “bodyprint” as an identifier.

This is how the computer database sees the natural patterning in this image:


To prevent double-counting sharks where images of the same shark from different sides may be sent in separately, researchers only give an unidentified, unmatched shark a new number (e.g. A-001, A-002, etc.) if there is a left-side pattern. For previously sighted individuals, such as H-019 in Utila, Honduras, a pattern match looks like this in the Wildbook global database:


whaleshark_example_right2. Right-side spot patterning. Similar to left-side patterning, right-side patterning can be scanned into the database and used to identify a previously sighted shark if it also has a right-side pattern. However, researchers do not allocate new shark numbers to unmatched right-side patterns. They remain unmatched in the system until the shark is sighted again and properly identified with a left-side pattern.

whaleshark_example_scar3. Scarring. Photographs of scarring on the head, fins, and body can also help identify previously marked individuals.

Once you have your whale shark photographs or frame grabs from video, you can submit them HERE

Using the email address you supply in your encounter report, the Wildbook database can automatically keep you informed of how your data is used and can notify you whenever an identified shark that you reported is re-sighted.

Thank you for contributing to this global effort to protect whale sharks worldwide!

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