Maldives Dolphin ID Project: 2022-2023

Check out the project page first, for a background of the types of dolphins (and other Cetacean species) sighted in the Maldives, and enjoy our updated diary entries and photos, below.

Dolphin Diary 2022

JANUARY 2022

At Kuda Huraa this month, we recorded 448 Spinners during 13 guest excursions, swimming in pods of between 10 to 80 individuals, during encounters lasting an average of 40 minutes. From our ID photographs, we confirmed resightings of two known individuals. Our database now totals 247 uniquely identified Spinners (using 546 photographic sightings).

At Landaa, we sighted 691 Spinners during the eight dolphin trips this month, in encounters lasting between three to 45 minutes. Calves were sighted in most pods, and common behaviours included cruising, playing, jumping, and bow-riding. From our ID photographs, we confirmed 12 Spinner resightings, and added 11 new uniquely identifiable Spinners to our database.

FEBRUARY

At Kuda Huraa this month, we sighted 470 Spinner dolphins across 15 trips, in pods of 10 to 60 individuals, with encounters lasting an average of 38 minutes. One Spinner was positively identified as a resighting. Our current database totals 247 uniquely identified Spinner dolphin individuals (from 547 photos).

At Landaa, we recorded 430 Spinners and two Bottlenose dolphins, across six excursions in encounters lasting between three to 35 minutes. From our photographs, we were able to uniquely identify six new Spinners, and confirmed six resightings.

MARCH

At Kuda Huraa, we had an impressive number of cetacean sightings across 15 excursions that included not only Spinners (470 individuals) and Bottlenose (35), but also Pilot Whales (52), False Killer Whales (100), and the rarely seen Risso’s Dolphins (6). On average, our encounters lasted 27 minutes, and dolphin calves were usually present.
From our ID photos, we confirmed one Spinner resighting.

At Landaa, we recorded 784 Spinners, two Bottlenose, and 20 Short-Finned Pilot Whales across 13 guest excursions, with encounter times averaging 22 minutes.
From our ID photos, we added two new individual Bottlenose plus nine Spinners to the database (and confirmed 11 Spinner resightings).

Dolphin ID project Spinners Maldives

Playful Spinners jumping in the waves

Dolphin ID project Spinner SL162

Resighting of Spinner #SL162 (Kuda Huraa, January 2022)

marine biology internship Maldives Matt (14) dolphins [1080]

Spinner dolphins are by far the most commonly sighted Cetacean species in the Maldives, and are always a delight to encounter

Dolphin ID Spinners added to database

Spinners added to database in April (at Landaa)

APRIL 2022

At Kuda Huraa this month across 13 guest excursions we recorded 607 Spinners, 30 Bottlenose, 12 Risso’s and 30 Pilot Whales. The largest pod of Spinners consisted of 100 individuals; encounters lasted an average of 31 minutes, and dolphin calves were sighted in most of the pods. Excitingly, one Pilot whale was identified as a resighting. The current database totals now stand at: 44 Bottlenose, 26 Pilot whales, 548 Spinners.

At Landaa, we sighted 483 Spinners across eight excursions, in encounters lasting 5 to 25 minutes. Common behaviours included cruising, playing, jumping, and bow riding. From our ID photos, we were able to uniquely identify eleven new Spinner individuals, and confirm eight resightings.

MAY

At Kuda Huraa this month, we recorded 965 Spinners across 12 trips, swimming in pods of between 20 to 150 individuals, in encounters averaging 37 minutes. From our ID photos, we added three new Spinners to the database, and confirmed six resightings.

At Landaa, we held three guest excursions and sighted 50 Spinners plus three Bottlenose. From our ID photos, we added nine new Spinners and confirmed seven resightings of known individuals.

JUNE

At Landaa this month, we recorded 302 Spinners across seven excursions, in encounters lasting from 10 to 32 minutes. From our ID photos, we added nine Spinners to our database, and confirmed seven resightings.

At Kuda Huraa, we sighted 965 Spinners across twelve trips, and were able to add 3 new Spinners to our database and confirmed 6 resightings.
Our database totals: 558 photographs of 250 Spinners.

Excitingly, we also recorded our first ever pod of:
Pan-tropic Spotted dolphins – 
> smaller than Bottlenose, larger than Spinners.

> less of the tricolor than Spinners.
> without the white Spinner belly.
> Behaviour – long high jumps (rather than spinning).

Bottlenose dolphins Maldives identification

Bottlenose dolphins at play

Dolphin jumping Risso's Maldives

Risso’s dolphin leaping from the water … a very rare treat for us in April, on a guest excursion from Kuda Huraa

Pan-tropic spotted dolphin Maldives rare

A very rare sight in Maldives! …

Pan-tropic spotted dolphin Maldives rare

… ‘Pan-tropic spotted dolphins‘, sighted at Kuda Huraa in June 2022

Dolphin ID new Spinners

Spinner dolphins – uniquely identified by their fin shape, named, and added to our database

JULY 2022

At Kuda Huraa this month, we held 12 cruises and recorded totals of: 720 Spinners, 150 Risso’s, and 100 Pantropic-Spotted dolphins. From the photographs we took on each trip, we were able to confirm the resightings of three known individuals already in our database.

At Landaa, we sighted 195 Spinners and five Bottlenose across 11 excursions, in encounters averaging 15 minutes duration. From our ID photos:
– Spinners – two added to the database; five confirmed resightings.
– Bottlenose – one new individual added; one confirmed resighting.

AUGUST

At Kuda Huraa this month, we recorded a total of 770 Spinners, added one new dolphin to our database (SL256, Slater), and confirmed resightings of four known individuals (Iron, Sharpie, Doctor, Snow).

We are now sharing the Kuda Huraa data with our Reefscapers colleagues at Sheraton (also in Kaafu Atoll) to merge our combined efforts into a single database, usable by both teams.

At Landaa, we recorded 250 Spinners, seven Bottlenose, and five Risso’s (first time for Risso’s at Landaa) in encounters lasting from five to 30 minutes duration. We held seven guest excursions; the weather was variable, and the waves were mostly choppy.
From our ID photos, we added one new Risso’s and four new Spinners to our database, and confirmed two Spinner resightings (Sky and Akil).

SEPTEMBER

At Kuda Huraa this month, we recorded an impressive 865 Spinners across 11 guest excursions. From our ID photographs, we added one new uniquely identified Spinner (‘Bobby’ SL115) and confirmed the resightings of four known individuals from our database.

At Landaa, we held nine excursions and sighted 360 Spinners, in encounters lasting 25-35 minutes. We were able to add three new Spinners to our database, and confirmed four resightings.

In addition, we were also lucky to spot three Bottlenose dolphins while working on the reef. Interestingly, two of these were already known to us from a previous recorded sighting of the same pair in November 2021 (‘Boreas’ TT0112, and ‘Helios’ TT011).

Dolphin ID most frequently sighted

Our top-sighted Spinners and Bottlenose dolphins, at Landaa Giraavaru (as at September 2022)

OCTOBER 2022

At Kuda Huraa this month, we enjoyed 12 Dolphin Cruises, accompanied by 104 Resort guests. We recorded sightings of 1075 Spinners, and confirmed resightings of seven known individuals (including ‘Snow’ [SL078]).

At Landaa, during six Dolphin Cruises we sighted 80 Spinners plus 11 Bottlenose, in encounters lasting an average of 15 minutes.

NOVEMBER

At Kuda Huraa this month, we recorded 1710 Spinners, and thanks to some lovely calm ocean days, we were able to add an impressive 30 new sightings to our database, and confirm the identity of six new individuals. We were also pleased to spot ‘Snow’ (SL078) on multiple occasions.

At Landaa, we sighted 400 Spinners in encounters lasting an average of 30 minutes, and added 2 new individuals to our database (along with 3 confirmed resightings). Also, we were lucky to encounter a small pod of Bottlenose dolphins close to our House Reef, where we interestingly resighted ‘Boreas’ (TT0112) each day for three consecutive days. One new Bottlenose was also added to our database.

DECEMBER

At Kuda Huraa during December we held ten excursions for a total of 60 guests, and recorded 1215 Spinners plus 10 false killer whales. Due to the calm sea conditions and good weather, we were able to take plenty of quality photos that resulted in six new Spinners being uniquely identified and added to our database.

At Landaa this month we sighted 575 Spinners across 11 trips in encounters averaging 23 minutes. We were also lucky to have a rare sighting of a sperm whale (spotted at the edge of the atoll between Voavah and Landaa). From our photographs, we added ten new Spinners to our database, and confirmed a further seven resightings

Dolphin ID Maldives ('Snow')

We are always delighted to spot our favourite Spinner dolphin ‘Snow’ (SL078)

ANNUAL FACTS & FIGURES FOR 2022

Kuda Huraa’s stats from 2022 include:

  • Spinner dolphins: 18 new individuals, plus 116 resightings
  • Bottlenose dolphins: 15 new individuals
  • Pilot whales: five new individuals, plus one resighting of “Margo” [GM015]. A total of four pilot whales have now been resighted, indicating a local resident pod
  • Risso’s dolphins: two new individuals
  • The Reefscapers teams have submitted a scientific research paper discussing our sightings of “Snow” (SL078). If successfully published, it will become the first paper to use our Dolphin ID data set, and a first for Reefscapers on Cetaceans!

 Landaa’s totals for 2022 include:

  • 4500 Cetaceans recorded over the 96 dolphin trips
  • Spinner dolphins made up 99% of total Cetaceans, with rarer sightings of Bottlenose, Risso’s, Short fin pilot whales, and one Sperm whale
Dolphin ID - new database additions

Dolphin Diary 2023

JANUARY 2023

At Kuda Huraa, we recorded 780 Spinners over 13 trips, and from our ID photos we were able to uniquely identify two new individuals, namely ‘Tiger’ (SL264) and ‘Viv’ (SL265).

At Landaa, we sighted 500 Spinners across nine excursions, in encounters lasting an average of 30 minutes. From our photographs, we were able to add two new unique Spinners to our database, and confirmed the resightings of three individuals.

Dolphin ID - new database additions

FEBRUARY

At Kuda Huraa, we recorded 1000 Spinners over 13 trips, and from our ID photos we added 12 new uniquely identified individuals to our database. We recorded an increase in calves (32 individuals), confirming the New Year to be a popular birthing period for this species. Recent anecdotal reports of Shortfin pilot whale sightings close to the Resort remain unconfirmed by our team.

At Landaa, we sighted 270 Spinners across the eight dolphin cruises, in encounters lasting an average of 20 minutes. From our photo ID analysis, we added seven new individuals to our database, and confirmed resightings of six known individuals.
During February, we went back through our records on Google Earth, dating back to 2014. We consolidated the database, ensuring that all sightings were recorded using standard symbols and nomenclature, to enable accurate comparisons over long time periods. We also highlighted our more unusual sightings (sperm whale, pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins, etc.).

Dolphin ID Maldives

MARCH

At Kuda Huraa, over 13 trips we recorded 887 Spinners plus one small pod of 10 Bottlenose dolphins. We have been working through our backlog of ID photos, and added three new individuals to our database (TT052 Sandy, SL017 Ziggy, SL015 Leeroy Jenkins).

At Landaa, we held eight dolphin cruises this month, and sighted 270 Spinners in encounters averaging 20 minutes duration. From our ID photos, we were able to uniquely identify five new Spinners, and confirmed the resightings of three known individuals (SL0325 Luna Lovegood, SL0101 Katie, SL0047 Corinna). We also reviewed our historical sightings dating back to 2014, to consolidate the database and to map correctly with Google Earth.

‘Dolphin Evasiveness’ Study

At Kuda Huraa, we have started a new research project in conjunction with our Reefscapers colleagues at Sheraton Maldives (also located in North Malé Atoll). Our ‘Dolphin Evasiveness’ study will collect data on specific parameters regarding boat conduct and dolphin evasiveness.

The presence of dolphin-spotting boats can have a significant impact on the social and feeding behaviours of dolphins. With the increasing numbers of boats that we encounter that are surrounding and following a single dolphin pod, the pods can become defensive and alter their social activity.
We plan to collect data on the behaviour of dolphins when they are in close proximity to boats, and we will analyse their behaviours (for example: longer diving, sudden change in direction, tail slapping near boats).

We hope to find quantitative evidence to support our hypothesis that boats do adversely influence natural dolphin behaviours. We then plan to develop new guidelines for boat conduct in the Maldives, to help restore more natural behaviours in dolphin pods, and to reduce the chance of injury from boat propellers.

Dolphin spotting excursions Maldives ID database

We are continuing our quantitative study on dolphin behaviours by recording a ‘Social Index’ of observed social activities.
Our ‘Bad Boat Index’ records any boat conduct that could potentially affect the social behaviour of dolphins, causing them to become more evasive:

  • milling – turning in response to dolphins
  • rushing – quickly accelerating towards a pod
  • charging – driving through the centre of a pod
  • circling – ‘donut-ing’ the pod to create waves

APRIL

At Landaa, we sighted 530 Spinners across 11 excursions, in encounters averaging 20 minutes duration. From our ID photos, we confirmed resightings of eight known Spinners, and added three new individuals to our database (Ed SL0433, Zebedee SL0434, Dougal SL0435).

At Kuda Huraa, we recorded 740 Spinners plus 30 Bottlenose (three pods) across 16 excursions. From our ID photographs, we added eight new individuals to our database, and we were pleased to confirm a resighting of one Bottlenose (Loch TT018) originally photographed back in 2019.

It’s the time of the year when we observe the migration of pilot whales, swimming through the Maldivian Atolls on their way to the northern Indian Ocean region. We were excited to confirm the resighting of a known pod of 20 short fin pilot whales that has been seen swimming close to Kuda Huraa in previous years. One known individual was resighted (Rachel GM018) having last been recorded in January 2021; we also added a new individual to the pod (Ciro GM027).

Dolphin & Cetacean ID Maldives pilot whales fins
Dolphin ID Maldives spinners fins

MAY

At Landaa, we held 11 dolphin cruises and encountered mainly pods of Spinners as usual, but also Bottlenose (three pods), and Risso’s (one pod). From our ID photographs this month, we were able to uniquely identify five new Spinners for our database, and confirmed resightings for thirteen named individuals.
At Kuda Huraa, we held 12 dolphin excursions, sighted 500 Spinners in total, plus one pod of fifteen Pilot Whales. From our photos, we added eight new Spinners and confirmed an impressive 21 re-sightings of previously identified dolphins (including an exciting spot of Cheddar/SL008, who had not been recorded since December 2020).

Dolphin sighting leucistic spinner Maldives

Another resighting of leucistic Spinner dolphin ‘Snow’ (SL078)

Leucism in Dolphins in the Maldives

Originally thought to be the only spinner dolphin with leucism in North Malé Atoll, Snow (SL076) has been a rare and privileged sighting on our dolphin cruises. We have now sighted a young juvenile also with leucism, named ‘Snowflake’, within the pod that is often seen around the SE part of this atoll.

In recent months, further reports of leucism have been reported in other parts of the Maldives. This may suggest an increase in genetic defects in local dolphin populations, perhaps due to microplastic ingestion, pollution, or climate change.

Dolphin sighting leucistic spinner 'snowflake' Maldives

Recent sighting of leucistic Spinner dolphin juvenile we’ve named ‘Snowflake’

JUNE

At Landaa, we sighted 245 Spinners across the eleven dolphin cruises this month, in encounters averaging 15 minutes duration. We also sighted one pod of Bottlenose, and one pod of Risso’s dolphins. From our ID photos, we confirmed the resightings of four Spinners.

At Kuda Huraa, we recorded an impressive 2255 Spinners over 16 guest excursions. From our ID photographs, we confirmed resightings of 33 Spinners in our database, and added nine new unique individuals. We observed that one Spinner (‘Messiah’) has a very unusual dorsal fin pattern – a small hole through the fin’s upper segment (see photo).
We sighted two separate pods of pilot whales this month, totalling 70 individuals. These two pods have been known to visit this part of the Maldives during their migrations across the Indian Ocean. Some of these individuals have not been sighted since 2018. From our photos, we confirmed resightings of 24 pilots, and added 10 new individuals to our database.

Dolphin ID Maldives dorsal fins

Fins of the nine newly identified Spinners this month (note ‘Messiah’, top left)

Dolphin and cetacean ID Maldives pilot whales

Pilot whale with damaged fin (likely due to a boat strike)

Dolphin spotting Maldives

Playful Spinner dolphins are always a delightful sight

Dolphin Spinner dorsal fins

Dorsal fins of 15 uniquely identified Spinner dolphins

JULY 2023

At Landaa this month, we sighted 172 Spinners across 13 dolphin cruises, in average encounters of 20 minutes duration. From our ID photos, we confirmed eight resightings and added one new individual to our database. We also spotted four small pods of Bottlenose dolphins on four different days across July, totalling 13 individuals.

At Kuda Huraa this month, we sighted 2000 Spinners over 15 trips. From our ID photos, we confirmed an impressive 35 Spinner resightings, and added five new individuals to our database.
We also spotted a previously-unrecorded pod of five Risso’s dolphins, and as we successfully photographed each individual, we were able to assign unique names & numbers for our database – Bear (GG017), Hawk (GG018), Viper (GG019), Scorpion (GG020), and Wolf (GG021).
Sighting Risso’s dolphins is always a rare treat. As deep divers, their time at the surface is usually very short, as they bask in the sun in preparation for the next dive to hunt for deep-sea squid. From our photos, you can see ‘battle’ scars from encounters with large squid, amongst bites and scratches from other competing Risso’s.
Thanks to some excellent published research by Karin L. Hartman, we are able to estimate the age of the Risso’s based on their head colouration and overlapping scarification. We can deduce that four individuals were adults (22-34 y/o), with one sub-adult (13-21 y/o) exhibiting few dorsal scars.

Dolphin Bottlenose dorsal fins

Dorsal fins of 16 uniquely identified Bottlenose dolphins
(note: Sobek, top row, with damaged fin)

AUGUST

At Landaa during August, we sighted 35 Spinners, four pods of Bottlenose, and one pod of Risso’s. From our ID photos, we were able to identify seven new Spinners (plus one resighting), three new Bottlenose (plus four resightings), and nine new Risso’s dolphins.

At Kuda Huraa this month, we recorded 2350 Spinners across 17 excursions. We also sighted one pod of 20 Bottlenose, plus one pod of five Risso’s dolphins. From our ID photographs, we added 15 new Spinners to our database, and confirmed 37 resightings; this included spotting Snowflake’s rare pale colouration on three separate days. It is noteworthy that most members of the Bottlenose pod were seen to have very unusual fin morphology, including Sobek (TT063) with a half fin, likely due to collision with a boat propeller.

Dolphin ID project Maldives Marine Savers
Dolphin ID project Maldives Marine Savers

SEPTEMBER

At Landaa during September, we held 12 dolphin cruises and sighted 45 Spinners in encounters averaging 19 minutes in duration. We also encountered pods of Bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins.
From our ID photographs, we identified a total of 37 dolphins: nine Spinners, 11 Risso’s (one resighting plus 10 new), 17 Bottlenose (three resightings plus 14 new).

At Kuda Huraa this month, over 16 trips we recorded 1900+ Spinners plus one pod of 30 Bottlenose and one pod of Risso’s. From our ID photos, we positively identified 24 individuals (including Snowflake, sighted on four separate days). Of the 20 Spinners, seven were new additions to our database.

Dolphin bottlenose ID Maldives

Dorsal fins of 12 uniquely identified Bottlenose dolphins (Landaa Giraavaru, September 2023)

pilot whale Maldives unique fin

Pilot whale fin with a unique scarification

Cetacean spotting trip Maldives pilot whales

Pod of pilot whales, sighted close to Kuda Huraa (October 2023)

OCTOBER

At Landaa during October, 600 Spinners were sighted, plus several pods of Bottlenose. From our ID photos, we were able to uniquely identify 23 Bottlenose and five Spinners.

Dolphin of the Month: Bottlenose dolphin ‘Helios’ was first sighted at Reethi Lagoon in November 2021 and was resighted last month in the same location. Many of the dolphins we encounter are residents to the area and are often resighted days, months, or even years apart.

At Kuda Huraa this month, we recorded 3845 Spinners over 15 trips, in some very large pods of up to 750 individuals. In addition, we also sighted two pods of Bottlenose, plus a large pod of Pilot Whales of at least 70 individuals. It’s around this time of year when migratory Pilot Whales swim through Maldivian waters, and individuals in this particular pod were last sighted in April.
From our ID photos, we confirmed resightings of 29 named Spinners, and added 14 new Spinners, 16 Pilots, plus three Bottlenose to our database.

Dolphin-spotting excursions Maldives

The leaping Spinners put on an exhilerating show! 🐬

NOVEMBER

At Landaa during November, we sighted 550 Spinners. From our ID photos, we were able to uniquely identify 11 new individuals and confirm 16 resightings.
Spinner dolphin ‘Katie’ was first sighted in February 2020 (at Reethi Lagoon) and was resighted this month at Voavah. Her dorsal fin has a distinctive upright shape and a large notch in the upper third, making her easily recognisable!

At Kuda Huraa this month, across 14 guest excursions we recorded 2500 Spinners, two small pods of Bottlenose (eight individuals), plus an impressive pod of at least 70 Pilot Whales. From our ID photos, we uniquely identified two new Spinners and confirmed 13 resightings.
The pod of Short Fin Pilot Whales seemed to be a resighting from 26 October. This enabled us to take more ID photos for an insight into their migration patterns. From this pod of 50 to 70 individuals, we added another eight unique dorsal fins to our database.
Two days later, a different pod was observed, adding ten new unique dorsal fins to our database. This pod mostly comprised new individuals except for Sully (typically found in the same pod as Margo), who might have relocated to a different pod for migration purposes.

Dolphin spotting leucystic Spinner Maldives
Short fin pilot whales Maldives
Short fin pilot whale tail Maldives
Dolphin spotting Maldives

DECEMBER

At Kuda Huraa during December, we conducted 12 excursions and recorded 2700 Spinners, mostly in large pods. We were pleased to spot both Snow and Snowflake on several occasions throughout the month.

At Landaa this month, we sighted 430 Spinners and one pod of Bottlenose, in encounters averaging 28 minutes duration. From our ID photographs, we added six Bottlenose and 23 Spinners to our database.
Dolphin of the Month: Diamond (GG0011) is one of our Risso’s dolphins identified for the first time this year, and only the 11th in our whole database! Risso’s dolphins are rarely encountered on our trips as they are cautious around boats. They are born dark grey in colour but gain distinctive scarring across their bodies and fins from physical interactions with each other. These marking can help us more easily identify individuals, especially when there are no obvious notches on the edges of their dorsal fins (like Diamond).

Dolphin spotting Maldives
Dolphin ID Maldives 'Diamond' GG0011

The unique fin of ‘Diamond’ [GG0011]

Dolphin spotting Maldives

Dolphin-spotting excursion at Kuda Huraa

Dolphin ID Maldives

More ? > Project Page & Dolphin Diaries

Sunset Dolphin Cruise