Photographic Identification (Photo-ID)
"Every scale tells a tale!"
How does it work?
Each sea turtle has their own unique arrangement of scales on their head and flippers (like a fingerprint), so they can be monitored over time simply by photographing them. This is a very non-invasive way of learning a lot about them.
Some have only been seen once, but we have “known” many of these hawksbills for years. You can learn about each one by clicking on their name (coming soon).
You will significantly contribute to this research by emailing your photographs directly, or by sending us links to online sightings (social media or other websites you come across).
You can match your photographs yourself too, by comparing your photos to each hawksbill, arranged by island. Please keep in mind that:
If your sighting is confirmed to be a new hawksbill to the catalog, you get the opportunity to name it!
You will always receive photo credit if your photo is used.
Your name will be listed under the "Sighted By" category in each hawksbill's profile that you submit photos of.
You can choose to receive our "Hawaiian Hawksbill Happenings" e-newsletters to keep you up-to-date, or just be contacted if your hawksbill is re-sighted.
The Trouble with Tagging
Trained researchers (with State and Federal endangered species permits) tag sea turtles with metal flipper tags that have a unique combination of letters and numbers. While this method is often helpful for tracking purposes, it comes with limitations like anything else (tag loss, epibiont growth, having to be super close to the animal to read the tags, potential injury, tags may create entanglement hazards, etc.).
We do not encourage people to closely approach sea turtles to read their flipper tags (which can be on each front and rear flipper), since that can be challenging and any disturbance of the animal is illegal. Instead, please take photographs/video and note the turtle's location so we can help identify the turtle that way since we're collaborating with the few researchers who are tagging Hawaiian sea turtles.
We also typically use internal P.I.T. (passive integrated transponder) tags, like pet dogs and cats receive, that you can't see. While these are shown to last longer, they can only be read on land with special scanners.
Photo-ID is an alternative research tool that is also helping us learn more about this critically endangered species!
All unique individuals are given numbers and names to monitor them over time. We've seen some over 100 times each, and one for a 18-year timespan!
• Pelagic Phase
• Adult Females (Untagged)
• Adult Females (Tagged)
• Adult Males
Note that the deceased hawksbills are still included in the catalog.
All of the Main Hawaiian Islands
• See the "Meet the Turtles" island-specific pages for complete information, but most of the sightings are from Maui (where I live).
• Our "Hawaiian Hawksbill Hui" is a statewide network of government agencies, conservation NGOs plus concerned community members. Join us!
• I can't thank everyone enough for contributing so much to this project over the years!
Want to help spread the word about hawksbills?
Here's a postcard that can be printed and distributed to people all around Hawai`i:
Here's a poster: