Identifying Species

Learning to identify cetaceans and sea turtles can take time and practice. While it may be easy to find sharp, focused images of these species, spotting them in the ocean can be very difficult. If you would like to improve your cetacean and sea turtle identification skills, check out the resources below, then head out on or near the water and practice looking for cues like blows, splashes, or dorsal fins. And remember, marine wildlife can be unpredictable, you never know when or where you may see a cetacean or sea turtle!

Download our printable species ID guide

Common Blows

Humpback Whale

Grey Whale

Killer Whale

Common Dorsal Fins

Humpback Whale

Grey Whale

Killer Whale

Common Flukes

Humpback Whale

Grey Whale

Killer Whale

Common Splashes

Dall's Porpoise - Rooster Tail

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin - Porpoising

Killer Whale - Breach



When a cetacean wants to take a look around, it exhibits a behaviour we can relate to: they stick their head up and out of the water. At least, this is what researchers presume these animals are doing when only their heads pop of the water, so that the eyes are clear of the water.


When a large whale takes a deep dive, it often arches its body and move some of its mass above water to dive in a steeper angle. As you watch the whale proceed forward, the last thing visible before the whale is completely submerged is usually the underside of the tail flukes. This is called fluking. Although this is a common behaviour upon a deep dive, fluking does not always occur.


Sometimes whales and dolphins propel their bodies up and out of the water and land with a big splash. Small animals can leap high out of the water, often twisting their bodies as they do so. Larger whales usually get at least two thirds of their bodies out of the water, and will often end the breach in a belly-flop or will turn in the air and land on their backs.

Bow Riding

Sometimes, small cetaceans, such as this Pacific white-sided dolphin, will swim in the front bow wake of a boat. They can be seen criss-crossing back and forth in front of the ship’s bow. At other times they will swim alongside the bow.


This behaviour is seen when an animal leaps clear of the water while it is moving forward. Pacific white-sided dolphins usually porpoise when they are traveling at high speeds.

Pectoral and Tail Slaps

Sometimes referred to as a pectoral fin slap, this behaviour is seen when the animal is at the surface. The animal lifts its pectoral fin or tail up and out of the water and then smacks it against the surface. When the fin hits the water, it causes a big splash and a slapping sound.