Using laser photogrammetry to measure long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas)

Joanna B. Wong, Marie Auger-Méthé


Knowledge of animal morphometry is important to understanding their ecology. By attaching two parallel lasers to a camera, known as laser photogrammetry (LP), a scale is projected onto photographed animals, allowing measurement of their body. Our primary aims were to test LP precision, and to estimate body length from dorsal-fin dimensions of Globicephala melas. Secondary aims involved demonstrating applications of LP, such as sex and leader determination. Using photographs taken over two-months, we measured dorsal base lengths (DBL) of 194 individuals individually-identified with natural markings. Results indicated 33 individuals were photographed in multiple encounters and eight matched previously-sexed whales. A mean difference of <2.1% between DBL’s of 58% of repeatedly-sighted individuals was found, and whales closer to the boat (<22m) produced more precise measures. The length from the blowhole to anterior insertion of the dorsal fin (BAID) was a better predictor of total body length in stranded whales than DBL, and laser-estimated lengths fell almost all within known pilot whale size. Despite our small sample size, we showed two examples of how LP could be applied in research: (1) males and females had similar DBL (n=8), but large males could be distinguished using DBL; (2) leaders were not necessarily bigger than other individuals in the same cluster (n=4). The ease of use of LP makes it a valuable tool in collecting measurements of body features, especially when coupled with photo-identification. 

Keywords: laser photogrammetry, morphometrics, measurement, length, Globicephala melas

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