Risso’s Dolphins: Enhancing Our Understanding Through Citizen Science

Risso’s dolphin spy-hopping (C) Colin Bird

Members of the public have been helping researchers to piece together a Risso’s dolphin puzzle to help protect these amazing creatures and creating a catalogue of images to aid individual identification.

Risso’s dolphins are predominantly deep water lovers and are therefore relatively unstudied, however in several places around the world they can be found within only metres of the coast enabling researchers to learn so much more about them.

Other name: Grampus; Grey grampus; White-headed grampus; Gee gee’s


Marine charity, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has so far received over 2000 photographs, including historical images, from Shetland, Orkney, and along the North and East coast of Scotland – which have been processed to create the Orkney and North/Northeast Scotland Photo-ID Catalogue, and the Shetland Photo-ID catalogue.

A Risso’s Dolphin named Arrow re-sighted over the years

Recognising individual dolphins from photographs is possible because Risso’s have distinct scars and marks on their dorsal fins and bodies, allowing individuals to be identified and recognised again and again – some for well over a decade. They get their characteristic scarring from interactions with other dolphins and from their prey, as they predominantly feed on squid and octopus.

Emma Steel, Shorewatch Coordinator, explained:

‘Risso’s dolphins are amazing creatures and to protect their long-term future, we need to better understand where they go and how they use different habitats. We basically need as many photographs as possible to continue to piece together the Risso’s jigsaw puzzle – we couldn’t have got to this stage without the help of the community”.

Risso’s dolphins have unique scars and marks on their dorsal fins (C) Robert Foubister

If you are lucky enough to take any pictures of Risso’s dolphins, please get in touch with WDC ( and your images might appear in future revisions of the catalogues. You can also look through the existing catalogues to see if any individuals you’ve photographed have been seen before. It’s thanks to WDC supporters, WDC Shorewatch volunteers, fellow researchers and members of the public, that these Risso’s dolphin Photo-ID catalogues have been published

(C) Andy Knight

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