How to tell what kind of FIN that is!?

How to tell what kind of FIN that is!?

February 24, 2018 21 Comments

Want more peace of mind in the ocean!?

Read on to learn how to tell the differences between the notorious 'FIN' that breaks the surface..


Dolphin or shark

I recently shared this image on social media with a huge response in engagement, it's not my most artistic image or one that I would instantly pull aside for my portfolio..

But, it tells a story, it evokes a feeling, and images that can tell a story and evoke a feeling are the most powerful images we can take as photographers.

What do YOU make of this..? What do you instantly feel from it? Would you panic and scramble to the shore, or would curiosity draw you closer? It was fascinating to see the hundreds of different responses from people on the instagram thread, experienced ocean goers had an analytical and passive response, whereas others just freaked out, some even mentioning that it got their heart racing, which goes to show, this kind of scene plays on the fear that the widespread media has been feeding us over the decades.

Growing up in the ocean, and still today, whenever I saw this kind of moment, it was always an intense second or two, while the mind quickly analysed what it just saw to prompt a reaction. There's been countless times that fins have surfaced when I've been in the water and more often than not, it gets the heart racing, but with a little education, you don't have to be afraid of these moments. Over time us ocean goers develop a very quick ability to determine the answer within a split second, and it's important to respond the right way in these kind of situations. So, having said that, I'm going to share a few pointers on how to identify fins and respond the right way, and in doing so, hopefully disarm that panic button..

You can actually tell what it is just by this photo if you have a good think about it...

1. There is no trail of water behind the fin, which indicates that it has surfaced in an arch and is dropping below the surface again.. dolphins do that. 

2. There is no sign of a caudal fin ( the tail fin of a shark ), which with a fin that small, the caudal fin, or signs of the caudal fin (like water movement) would also be visible.

3. The water behind the fin. The bubbling water behind the fin means that water displacement has happened by immersion of volume, something that only happens when a large volume or body has been immersed into the water quickly; another indication that it's a dolphin, as only dolphins bring their body out of the water in that manner.

However, having said all this, it's still tricky, it's a sharp fin, it has an eery feeling, and it's heading directly for people! That's all just perspective though, it's amazing what perspective can do hey..

Here is a few pointers and things to look for to identify fins when you're out in the water.

1. Dolphin fins will have an arch to them, and an arch in their back. The way they break the surface is in a semi circle motion. They won't gradually rise and cut through the water for an extended period of time like a shark would.

2. Fins.. sharks have 2 fins that break the surface; the dorsal and the caudal, dolphins have just one. Sharks can tend to only stick a small tip of their dorsal fin out of the water though, which sometimes means the caudal remains under the surface. If the fin is cutting slowly through the water and not rising up or down, then it's probably a shark. A dolphin will pop up and down quickly in the one spot. If there is 2 fins, or displacement in the water behind the dorsal, that would obviously indicate that it's a shark also.

3. Dolphins move their tail fin up and down, if the water is clear or you can see the body of it in a wave, it's very easy to quickly notice which way the body is moving.. if the lower half of the body is moving up and down, you're cool. If it is moving side to side, that's a shark.

4. Numbers. More often than not, dolphins will travel in pods, while sharks cruise solo (most of the time) so if you see more than one fin in the distance, good chance it's a friendly pod heading your way! I highly doubt it'll be a school of sharks all cruising the surface at once!! ha! If it is then, wow..

5. Dolphins breathe air.. therefore they have a blowhole, which can be easily identified by small puffs of mist coming from them, and also the sound that it makes! Sharks filter oxygen in the water though their gills, they won't blow water into the air! 

6. Behaviour; every now and then you get the lone dolphins that like to sneak up on you and give you a good fright! These are called Sholphins ( that's their scientific name.. ha ) But generally dolphins are fun, loving creatures, they like to surf the waves and do a few laps around you, I've even had them circle me tightly over and over (which often can indicate a form of protection), they are smart, really smart, and incredibly spatially aware. I've had some breathtaking moments with dolphins and it would be a shame for you to miss out on an interaction with one or more of these magnificent animals because you're scared of sharks.

Notice the curve in its back.. dolphin!

Leaping dolphin
See, dolphins love to play around! 

If it is a shark, don't freak out, that's the worst thing to do and often a response that has to be overridden by mental capacity. The best thing to do (if you don't know what kind of shark it is) is to keep eyes on it and slowly swim back toward land, shallow water or boat, and exit calmly. Always keep an eye on it as best you can, don't thrash and panic, or turn your back. By doing so you'll just convey to the predator that you are a weak and easy target.

Sure, this is all easy to say out of the water, a lot of the time, it's a different story in the moment! But by educating yourself, you can learn to enjoy the ocean with a lot more peace of mind. Sharks are not out to get us, they are smart creatures and they are a crucially important part of maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem, the ocean is clean and healthy because of them. So don't be afraid of these animals. They are notorious hunters though and like all living things, they make decisions based off environment and circumstance. Don't go swimming in low visibility; like murky water or low light (dawn and dusk), because you can become a victim to a sharks mistake. Make sensible decisions when you enter the water, because every time you do, you're entering their home and have to play by their rules.

Some people have shared great comments in the thread! You can check that out here. Hope you enjoyed this and learnt something, leave a comment or share if you think a friend could benefit from this :)

Now go and ENJOY the ocean!

Seal playing in the sunThis is a seal. They are 110% chill.

Seven dolphins surfing by Thurston Photo
"Dolphin Wave" | Available to buy as a print

Passing smile From a dolphin"Passing Smile" | Available to buy as a print

 The above 2 photos and moments would never have happened if fear had got the better of me.. 



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Very good to know as I spend so much time in the water and can kayak for miles with dolphin. But when swimming I can get confused

Would like to know if you think dolphins are aware that their dorsal fins are visible to people when they surface…and do they surface at times just so they can be visible to people..and not just to breathe.
In other words can they choose when they want to be seen or opt to stay under for long periods of time when they do not want to be noticed?
Thanks..Deb
Great photos…

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