What is that whale?
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, identifying them in certain ocean conditions or from a distance is more challenging! 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.Download our Printable ID Guide
Cetaceans and Sea Turtles Found in BC
Click on the buttons below to learn how to identify the different species of baleen whales, toothed whales, and sea turtles found in our waters.
Common Dorsal Fins
An easy way to identify cetaceans to species is by looking at the shape of their dorsal fin. Porpoises have triangular dorsal fins, dolphins have curved fins, and large whales dorsal fins in all shapes and sizes (or none at all!).
As a whale’s exhalations from their blowhole condense in the air, they create shapes that are unique to each species and are helpful for identification. Some blows can be seen from far away, and aid in discerning species from a distance.
When whales take a deep dive, they often display their tail flukes. This can be a useful tool for species identification.
Many cetaceans display unique behaviours on the surface of the water, which can help to identify different species.
When a whale takes a deep dive, it often arches its body to dive at a steeper angle, often exposing its tail flukes. Fluking does not always occur; Fin and minke whales rarely expose their tail flukes upon diving.
Sometimes small cetaceans 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 boat. Dall’s porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins frequently bow ride, whereas harbour porpoisees are shy and tend to avoid boats.