Sea Otter Photo-Identification

Sea Otter Photo-Identification

You are probably familiar with the technique of photo-identification when it comes to whales and dolphins (if you are not, read more here!), but did you know the same principle applies to sea otters too?

Biologists can distinguish individual sea otters by photographing their noses. Each nose is shaped differently, and many otters have pink scar tissue. Scarring is especially prolific in females due to the mating bite that males inflict upon females during copulation. However, using photo-ID with sea otters can be difficult due to the fact nose scarring can change from year to year, sometimes resulting in misidentifications. 

The two photos above are of an elderly female otter that we have dubbed “Beatrice.” For the past two years, Beatrice has taken up semi-residence in the Homer Harbor in Homer, Alaska, where she takes advantage of easy meals in the form of crabs and blue mussels. Whenever I’d see an old female otter munching away in the harbor, I suspected I was seeing the same individual each time, but wasn’t able to confirm that until I compared some relatively good quality photos of her nose. In the year between these two photos, she did pick up some additional scarring, but overall her nose looks mostly the same. Hopefully Beatrice will still be there this summer for more comparisons!

Read more about sea otter photo-identification.