Category Archives: Whales and Dolphins

And the winner of the 3-Minute-Thesis competition is…

3MT Trans-Tasman Competition 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

…  Sarah Marley from Curtin University

When I heard those words, my heart stopped.  I did the “shocked-actress-wins-award” face.  I hugged my friends sitting on either side.  I repeatedly gasped “oh my goodness“.  I may have even made a rather embarrassing Oscar-worthy acceptance speech.  Now over a week later and I am still riding the high 🙂

View the talk below:

Now let’s back up a bit.

The 3-Minute-Thesis (3MT) competition was developed by the University of Queensland back in 2008.  It was intended to be an exercise in communication for graduate students, giving them just three minutes to explain their PhD to a generalist audience.  Since then, the competition has expanded to universities around the world.

I’ve known about this competition for a couple of years now, after seeing various friends compete to present their own PhD at other universities.  I couldn’t wait to become a student myself and give it a go!  So when Curtin University emailed around to announce that registration was open for the 2014 competition I immediately sat down, wrote my talk in 20mins, and started practicing!

The Curtin heats were a couple of months ago, where I surprised myself by not only making it through to the Curtin Final top ten but also by winning my heat.  “A great start,” I thought.  “Now back to fieldwork!” as I prepared for the second trip up to the Kimberleys.  A few weeks later, I made the special one-night-only trip back from Broome to Perth for the Curtin Final, and won both the Final and the People’s Choice award!  Certainly justified the trip down!

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

But the Trans-Tasman Competition was the hardest yet.  I was competing with winners, so you can imagine that the standard of talks was extremely high!  Most amazing of all was the team spirit – everyone was so nice to each other!  After every presentation, the speaker would return to the “green room” amid cheers and high fives from their opposition 🙂  It was a great vibe!

Then it was time to give my talk…

Not a stutter in sight!  Quite different to a couple of years ago...

Not a stutter in sight! Quite different to 4 yrs ago…

As I stepped on stage, I felt such a buzz.  I love the work that I do, and the opportunity to talk about it always gets me excited!  Quite a far cry from four years ago, when I could barely give a short talk to a group of friends without blushing and stuttering my way through the presentation.  So I felt a certain glow of accomplishment at having enjoyed something that just a few years would have terrified me!

From a happy glow to radiating surprise, I was ecstatic to be chosen as winner of the 3MT – but the whole experience was a delight!  From the thrill of presenting to the team spirit backstage to the happiness of making new friends, the whole 3MT journey has been a blast.  If you ever have the opportunity to take part I would thoroughly encourage you to do so!  Even if you’re not confident of your presenting skills, just ask yourself – when will you get a better opportunity to try?

But work on your potential acceptance speech beforehand, and practice your photo face:

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer.  Sorry James...

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer. Sorry James…

Now all that is left is for me to thank my partner, my friends, my family, my university, the organisers, the sponsors, the judges, the competitors, the audience, the backstage staff, my high school science teacher, my pets…

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Studying Snubfins in the Kimberleys

Have you ever heard of a snubfin dolphin?  Not many people have – and up until 2005, no one had at all.

Snubfin dolphins in Roebuck Bay (Photo Credit:  Sarah Marley)

Snubfin dolphins in Roebuck Bay (Photo Credit: Sarah Marley)

In that year, what was previously considered to be a bunch of Irrawaddy dolphins swimming around off the northern coast of Australia, was discovered to actually be a separate species entirely.  And so snubfin dolphins became Australia’s first endemic species of cetacean.  But now, almost ten years later, we still don’t know a whole lot about them.

As part of the Kimberley Marine Research Program, the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) is funding research into the distribution, abundance and genetic connectivity of Australian snubfin and humpback dolphins across the Kimberleys.  This is a collaborative research project, involving scientists from Murdoch University, Curtin University and Australian National University.  Through a mixture of visual observations from vessel-based surveys and acoustic monitoring using underwater noise loggers, the project hopes to improve our knowledge of where and when dolphins occur.  It will also investigate the effectiveness of using noise loggers as an alternative technology for collecting data on distribution and seasonality of dolphins across the Kimberleys.

Listening for snubfin dolphins in Roebuck Bay

Listening for snubfin dolphins

During July and August this year, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the Roebuck Bay component of this project.  My supervisor Chandra and I spent a few weeks working with Dr Deb Thiele (Australia National University) to collect visual and acoustic data on the snubfin dolphins of Roebuck Bay.  It was a real pleasure to work with Deb, who has been conducting research in Roebuck Bay for several years on the abundance, habitat-use and behaviour of this snubfin dolphin population.  We were also working in with local Yawuru Indigenous Rangers Cornell and Johani, who helped us on the boat to collect observational and photographic information on the dolphins.  And to finish off our Snub-Team, we had Jason from Environs Kimberley who helped us navigate through the bay.  The Kimberleys are a stunning place in general, but it was especially great to explore it with people who know the area (and its wildlife) so well!

Over five weeks, we spent a lot of time out on the water and became familiar with a whole host of Roebuck Bay’s other marine residents.  Sightings of dugong, turtles, manta rays, sharks, sea birds, and various fish made every day unpredictable but very special!

Chandra, me and Deb

Chandra, me and Deb.

I’ve been remarkably quiet the last wee while partly because I’ve been away on fieldwork.  But also because it involved such amazing animals, cool people, and beautiful surroundings that I had no idea how to begin describing it!  A large part of PhD life revolves around stress – the pressure of making progress, meeting deadlines, producing outcomes.  But an important part of PhD life is to realise how lucky I am to have these experiences, travel to these places, and meet these people.  And this trip was definitely one of those fortunate events.

The Last 55: Final chance for Maui’s dolphins

Maui's dolphinFifty-five is not a big number.  But it could mean a world of difference to one small dolphin species in New Zealand.

Maui’s dolphin is the world’s rarest and smallest known subspecies of dolphin.  Found only in New Zealand,they typically range close to the coast in small pods although they can also be found around harbour mouths and further offshore.  But their numbers have been decreasing due to entanglement in fishing gear and disease, with approximately 4 to 5 Maui’s killed each year.  Which doesn’t seem like too many, right?

A bit of maths

In the 1970s, the dolphin population was reportedly around 1,800 individuals.  But the species has rapidly declined since net-setting and trawling were introduced in the 1970s.  A 2012 research study estimated that only 55 Maui’s dolphins now remain.  Suddenly that 4 to 5 death rate seems a lot bigger.  So just since that study was conducted, we are probably already approaching a population size of around 40 animals. Extinction isn’t just a threat – it’s a very real likelihood.

If we are losing 10% of the population each year, you don’t have to be a mathematical genius to know that things aren’t looking good for the Maui’s.  Especially given their slow reproduction rate – females reach maturity at approximately 8 years of age, and only have one calf every 2 – 4 years.

What is being done?

The New Zealand government generally has a pretty good standing when it comes to conservation.  In 2003, a ban on commercial set nets was added to an existing ban on recreational netting from north of Auckland to north of Taranaki, covering out to four nautical miles from shore.  In 2008, this was extended to seven nautical miles and in 2012 the ban on set nets extended further south.  Last year, the Minister of Conservation finalised a Maui’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan, which includes codes of practice for seismic surveys, regulations for inshore boat racing, and the establishment of a Maui’s Dolphin Research Advisory Group.

So are things improving?

Debatable. Although various marine protected areas have been created with the aim of conserving Maui’s dolphins, the government has failed to extend protections to areas where there have been credible recent sightings of the animals.  That’s the thing about marine mammal conservation – these are free-ranging animals who cover large areas in a dynamic habitat.  Thus, the distribution of populations will change over time and so needs constant re-assessment if protected areas are to have a positive effect.  But this is an investment the NZ government seems unwilling to make.

And despite several promising moves on the government’s part, it looks like money might win through in the end.  This week, it has been reported by several news groups that the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary – home to the Maui’s dolphin – has been signed off for oil and gas exploration.

The NZ government signed off a block offer of sea and land in April, which includes a 3,000 square kilometre overlap into the sanctuary.  Oil and gas development in this area could have a devastating impact on Maui’s habitat by increasing levels of underwater noise through seismic surveys, as well as putting the area at greater risk of oil spills.

The government has already had previous bungles with the block offer, with Simon Bridges, the Minister of Energy and Resources signing off New Zealand’s biggest forest park for drilling – despite having never heard of it.  Not exactly reassuring that the government is taking conservation seriously.

In fact, politicians are arguing whether this is even an issue, and NZ Conservation Minister Nick Smith is insisting that there hasn’t been a single observation of a Maui’s dolphin in the proposed exploration area.  So no need to worry.

But you have to wonder how hard they’ve looked?

What you can do

Numerous scientific and conservation groups have already called for the New Zealand government to take action to save the Maui’s dolphin.  Just last week, the International Whaling Commission urged the government to do more to save the species, stating that it had “extreme concern” about the decline in Maui’s dolphins.

In a recent report, the IWC estimated that Maui’s will decline to just 10 adult breeding females in six years and become functionally extinct in less than 20 years – unless their full range is protected from gillnetting and trawling.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 9.15.55 amWWF have stepped up their “Last 55” campaign to save the Maui’s dolphin, urging parliament to announce permanent measures that remove fishing gear which kills dolphins and help affected fishermen adopt dolphin-friendly fishing methods.   “Anything less will not give the species a fighting chance at survival.”

Support their campaign by signing the WWF online petition here.  And hopefully we can convince the New Zealand government to stop faffing around and start taking effective steps to save the Maui’s dolphin.

The (After) Life of a Whale

Over the last few weeks, a small town in Canada has lived in fear of exploding whales.

Seriously.

A Whale of an Explosion

At the end of April, a dead blue whale washed up on the shore of Trout River, Newfoundland.  Amid concerns it could be a shipping hazard if dragged out to see, locals were forced to leave the whale decomposing on the beach whilst local and federal authorities argued over who should deal with the remains.

Inside a blue whaleThe carcass then proceeded to expand to about twice its normal size due to bloating from methane gas, a normal by-product of decomposition.  Unfortunately, there is only so far a bloated blue whale can stretch, leaving local residents on stand-by for a pretty big bang.  Strange as it sounds this is a legitimate concern – last year a washed up sperm whale in the Faroe Islands exploded as a biologist attempted to dissect it (warning:  video not for the faint-hearted).

Eventually, a team from the Royal Ontario Museum headed over to dismantle and remove the blue whale – a feat which took them almost a week.

A Sight to See (and Smell…)

Whale carcasses aren’t that great in general, regardless of their explosive potential.  A few years ago in Scotland, I took my sister to see a washed up sperm whale at our local beach.  We arrived at the car park and started walking.  When we were 1km away, she sniffed a few times and asked “What’s that smell?”.  It only got worse.

Dead sperm whale - winner of Aberdeen's Top Tourism Attraction 2009.

Dead sperm whale – winner of Aberdeen’s Top Tourism Attraction 2009.

But despite this, hundreds of people came to see it.  The carpark was overflowing for days whilst people made the trek to see the spectacle because, dead or alive, it’s just not every day you see a sperm whale.  People brought their kids (who poked it), dogs (who rolled in it), and cameras to remember the experience.

So, given the high number of marine mammals out there, why aren’t we constantly assaulted by the stink of washed-up whales?  When they’re not washing up on our beaches and becoming a gruesome attraction, what happens to the remains of whales and other marine life?  The answer:  Whale Fall.

Whale Fall

Deep-sea zones are pretty special when it comes to food-chains.  A lack of light means no plant life, which is generally the foundation of most food webs.  Instead, the deep sea ecosystem consists mostly of scavengers, who are fed from above by a constant drizzle of organic particles and detritus known as ‘marine snow’.

But every so often, a really big particle falls in the form of a whale.  And when this happens, the whole community turns up for a feast.

Recently, a deep-sea graveyard was discovered off the coast of Angola by remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) conducting oil and gas exploration.  Consisting of a dead whale shark and four rays, this represented a surprisingly high concentration of deceased megafauna over a relativley small area.  Scientists are now using this footage to compare the species composition of scavengers on the shark and ray carcasses to the scavenger species present on whale falls.

Ecosystems within ecosystems.  A pretty cool example of how life goes on!

Listening to the Sound of Success!

Two different projects came to fruition last week, neatly coming in time for my birthday!  Not so sure about the ageing part, but it was definitely good timing on the research outcomes!

From listening for dolphins…

Earlier this month I spent a morning out on the river with the ‘Destination WA‘ TV crew, filming a short segment about the Swan River dolphins.  We spent a lovely few hours out on the Swan River Trust boat Kwilana (Noongar for ‘dolphin’) whilst the team did interviews with myself, Delphine Chabanne (Murdoch University), Marnie Giroud (SRT), and Jennie Hunt (Dolphin Watch).

It was really interesting to see ‘behind the scenes’ for the filming process, especially given the great camaraderie of the TV crew!

… to interpreting blue whales!

Non-song vocalisations of pygmy blue whalesAnother project success last week was finding out that our paper “Non-song vocalizations of pygmy blue whales in Geographe Bay, Western Australia ” had been published online by the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America!  This study used simultaneous land-based visual observations and underwater acoustic recordings to examine the communication of pygmy blue whales.

These animals are famed for their songs, made up of repeated patterns of notes.  But in this study, we focused on the non-song sounds produced by pygmy blue whales and found six different vocalisations – five of which had never been described for this population before!  Hopefully this will help inform passive-acoustic monitoring for the species.

And as for ‘Older and Wiser’?

Well, that remains to be seen!  But entering 28 as a PhD Student, TV Star, and three-times Published Scientific Author isn’t a bad way to start 😉

Fieldwork Update: Watch out dolphins, Big Sister is watching (and listening!)

Over the last couple of months I have had a busy whirlwind of deploying noise loggers; learning how to program recording schedules and then process acoustic data; complete health and safety forms; obtain permits for area use; train volunteers for visual surveys; organise fieldwork shifts…  and this is before the fieldwork has even started!  But now it’s all underway and the data is coming in!

Eavesdropping on Dolphins…

Sylvia and Mal from CMST head out into the Swan River to help deploy my first batch of noise loggers

Sylvia and Mal (CMST) head out into the Swan River to help deploy loggers

Back in November 2013, three noise loggers were deployed in the Swan River as part of my PhD project examining the acoustical and behavioural response of coastal dolphins to noisy environments.   I have been lucky enough to have great support from the students and staff at CMST to help me with deployments.  Now the first batch of acoustic data from this first logger deployment is in my office, ready for processing!

These noise loggers record underwater sound produced by ambient (wind, waves), biological (dolphins, fish, crustaceans), and human sources (vessels, traffic, and construction).  For more info on these noise loggers, see my previous post on recording whale sounds in Albany.  Whilst I am examining this first acoustic data batch, the noise loggers have been moved to new locations and are busy recording more underwater sounds.

Over the next year, I will be deploying noise loggers at several spots throughout the river.  I can then use these data to describe the underwater soundscape of the Swan River and examine the vocal behaviour of bottlenose dolphins.

…  Whilst Watching from Above!

Visual observations of dolphin behaviour began in January 2014.  I am conducting visual surveys at various vantage points along the shoreline, using a theodolite to record dolphin movements and behaviours in the river.  This visual information can then be used to understand the context of dolphin sounds and their use of the underwater acoustic environment.

A theodolite is traditionally a surveying instrument, used to create 3D models of the landscape.  It does this by selecting different points, then measuring the horizontal and vertical angles to give an exact bearing and distance to each point; this creates a scale map of the area.  But we can also use this technique to get the position of objects out at sea – such as dolphins!  So we can use a theodolite to map a dolphin’s position each time it surfaces, giving a very fine-scale track of how the animals are using an area.  The added bonus being that the dolphins are not aware of our presence, so we do not have to worry about disturbing the animals and influencing their behaviour.  Although I do often wonder if they have a “feeling of being watched”…

Volunteers Elly and Bec join me surveying for dolphins in the Swan River

Volunteers Elly and Bec join me (and theo) surveying for dolphins in the Swan River

To run these visual surveys, I require a theodolite team:  one person entering data on the computer, one collecting positions using the theodolite, and some others to find the dolphins!  Thankfully, I have had an overwhelming amount of support from my ex-students (and some marine biologist friends), and currently have around 25 volunteers donating their time to help out in the field.  Many are studying or working full-time, making their contributions all the more amazing and appreciated!

But we have had some particularly awesome dolphin sightings to make it all worthwhile – and even on quiet days, the great team spirit (and masses of life stories to tell) keeps us pretty entertained!

Humpback whales and seismic surveys

This week the “Behavioural response of Australian humpback whales to seismic surveys” (BRAHSS) project kicks off in Western Australia, with the aim of studying how these whales respond to the air guns used in seismic surveys.  This project is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies undertaken on the effects of noise on whales.  And this year I’ll be one of the marine mammal observers working there.

What are seismic surveys?

Seismic surveys use reflections from air gun noise to study the structure of the sea floor (Source:  Open Learn)

Seismic surveys use reflections from air gun noise to study the structure of the sea floor (Source: Open Learn)

Seismic surveys are used by industry to locate oil and gas deposites beneath the sea floor.  These surveys are also used by geoscientists conducting research on submarine rock structures.   This is done using air guns, which produce noise using compressed air.  This noise penetrates the sea floor and ‘bounces back’ off the underlying rock formations.  Survey vessels tow an array of hydrophones (underwater microphones), which receive the reflected noise signals produced by the air guns.  Scientists can examine the readings from this reflected noise to determine the structure of rock strata, and decide whether it is a potential oil / gas site.  Unfortunately, such surveys produce quite a bit of noise and there are concerns regarding the effect of this on marine life.

Where do humpback whales come into this?

Australia is lucky enough to have two populations of humpback whales.  Both populations spend the (austral) summer months feeding in Antarctica; but in the winter, the populations split with one migrating up the West Coast and the other up the East Coast of Australia to their tropical breeding and calving grounds.  During this migration, and particularly on the south-bound journey when females are travelling with young calves, the whales sometimes congregate in coastal bays for a “rest stop”.  This journey takes humpback whales past many sites of human significance, in terms of recreation, transport and industrial work.  Thus it is important to understand how human activities may effect these animals.  Of particular concern are the effects of underwater noise, as marine mammals have specialised hearing which assists with their navigation, foraging and communication.

What will BRAHSS be doing?

Humpback whale making some noise of its own (Photo: S. Marley)

Humpback whale making some noise of its own (Photo: S. Marley)

Broadly, the BRAHSS project aims to provide information that will reduce uncertainty in evaluating the impacts of seismic surveys on humpback whales.  This will lead to improved management and mitigation measures, allowing such surveys to be conducted efficiently and with minimum impact on the whales.  The project has previously run two successful research seasons off the East Coast of Australia in 2010 and 2011.  It is now repeating these experiments on the West Coast population of humpback whales.

As a marine mammal observer (MMO) on the project, I will be off to Dongara in Western Australia for the next 6wks.  My role will be to assist in spotting humpback whales and tracking their movements from the survey vessel, in addition to monitoring animal behaviours in response to air gun noise.  Dongara is reputed to be a pretty bouncy area sea-wise, so hopefully I manage to keep sea-sickness at bay (and don’t have to put my sea survival skills to the test!) – but it’ll be good to get out with some whales again 🙂

Event: Come say hello at Fremantle Maritime Day!

Maritime DayThis Saturday, Fremantle Port is hosting the Maritime Day Expo down at Victoria Quay in Fremantle.  And yours truly will be there helping out at the Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (CEDP) stall!  So come down, have a chat, and check out our Fin-Matching and What’s that Sound? games, research progress, and general dolphin info!

There will also be free harbour boat rides, a Svitzer tug on show, the guided missile frigate HMAS Sydney open for visiting, a Navy vs Port cook-off, kids activities, live bands and other entertainment on offer.  The CEDP stall will be down in B Shed, along with over 40 other maritime displays and career stalls.  For the full program of what’s on, click here.

The event itself is open to the public from 10am – 4pm, and my stall shift is from 12-2pm.  So come say hello 🙂

Our supercool "Listening to Dolphins" poster for the Maritime Day Expo in Fremantle

Our supercool “Listening to Dolphins” poster for the Maritime Day Expo in Fremantle

Did you hear? Recording whale sounds in Albany

This weekend the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) deployed two noise loggers in Albany, Western Australia to record underwater sounds, and I had the pleasure of assisting!

Ready…

Angela and I with our first ever sea noise logger!

Angela and I with our first ever sea noise logger!

On Thursday, my supervisor Dr Chandra Salgado Kent (deputy director of CMST) showed Angela and I how to calibrate and prepare the noise loggers, which are specially designed and built by CMST.  Essentially an underwater microphone, the noise loggers have previously been deployed all around the Australian coast, allowing CMST to build up a catalogue of underwater sounds and tackle various questions in marine acoustics research.  As the centre’s two newest PhD students, these are pieces of equipment we are going to become very familiar with over the next few years!  We were shown how to program the noise loggers, which can be set to different sampling rates – they might record most of the time, or only every so often depending on the research question.  We also learnt how to secure the noise loggers in their casing, ready for deployment!

… Set …

The next day Chandra, Jose and I drove the two noise loggers down to Albany, ready for an early-morning deployment on Saturday.  Two officers from the newly formed Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) kindly met us at 7am to help finish preparing the noise loggers, then took us out in their vessel to deploy the loggers along with a representative from Albany Port.  Although there was a wee bit (i.e. fricking huge amount) of swell, we managed to get both loggers deployed in King George Sound – success!  We were also lucky enough to spot some marine mammals, with both bottlenose and common dolphins popping up next to the boat and plenty of New Zealand fur seals lounging around on the rocks.  A promising sign for a marine mammal research project!

Chandra gets some photos of the New Zealand fur seals off Albany

Chandra gets some photos of the New Zealand fur seals off Albany

… Go!

Now the noise loggers will (hopefully!) record for the next two months, recording the underwater ‘soundscape’ of King George Sound.  The project is a first for Albany, and will record all sounds produced in the bay be it from natural (waves, rain), biological (fish, whales, dolphins), or man-made (ships) sources.  But the main focus of this project are the humpback and southern right whales which use the area during their seasonal migrations.

Whales appear to be very vocal, with male humpbacks being particularly renowned for their ‘songs’, the purpose of which is still under debate.  However, both male and female whales also appear to produce ‘social sounds’, which may be used in various behavioural contexts.  The type and number of calls recorded help to give an idea of how many whales might be present in the area, and what they are up to.  This data will act as a pilot field season, which can be built upon in future years to establish trends in whale abundance and seasonality over time.  This will provide an idea of migration patterns for these species.  It’s an exciting development, and has already received media attention from the local press (“Whale song to be recorded“).

Now we just have to wait two months to hear what the whales are saying!

Dolphin Watch: Community Science in Action

How can a small team of scientists hope to measure a community of bottlenose dolphins – highly mobile animals – inhabiting a river stretching 60km through the capital of Western Australia?  By creating a network of citizen scientists!

The Swan-Canning Riverpark is an estuarine protected area flowing through Perth, WA.  Despite being situated in a major metropolitan area (over 1.4 million people), the river is home to a resident community of approximately 20 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.  Murdoch and Curtin Universities are leading the research into Perth’s Swan River dolphins, investigating how environmental changes in the river and human activities can affect the dolphin community.  For more information on the latest paper from this project, please click here.

Dolphin Watching for Science

Click here to view the Dolphin Watch Annual Report 2012-13

Click here to view the Dolphin Watch Annual Report 2012-13

The Dolphin Watch project is a partnership between the Swan River Trust’s River Guardians program, and Murdoch and Curtin Universities.  It was instigated in April 2009 to learn more about the bottlenose dolphins residing in the Swan and Canning Rivers by training members of the local community to monitor the dolphins.

On Friday evening I had the pleasure of attending Dolphin Watch Day 2013.  Each year, the amazing  contribution of the Dolphin Watch volunteers are celebrated on Dolphin Watch Day, providing an opportunity to share the most recent discoveries and research news.  Since the project began in 2009, volunteers have contributed 7,180 records of dolphin sightings detailing the location, group size and behaviour of animals seen in the river.  This has helped develop scientists’ understanding of how the dolphins are using this area, and will support the conservation of these much-loved locals.

Benefits for scientists…

Marine mammals are difficult to spot at the best of times.  But trying to track them down in a long river system, full of bays and inlets, can be a time-consuming process.  However, each year thousands of people use the Swan River for sport, recreation and travel.  If those people are already out on the river, it makes sense to make use of local knowledge to discover more about the ecosystem and its inhabitants.  Dolphin Watch essentially gives the scientists ‘eyes’ along the whole length of the river.

The growing size of this data set will allow scientists to begin studying long-term trends in dolphin habitat use and behaviour.  It will also improve their ability to detect changes in population size and behaviour which may effect the conservation of these iconic animals.  Citizen science projects such as this help us to develop our understanding of the world around us, and directly contribute to important research and conservation efforts.

… as well as volunteers!

This ever increasing amount of date is due to the growing size of Dolphin Watch, as well as the ongoing efforts of established members.  With almost 600 members of the Perth community out voluntarily monitoring the river, it is extremely heartening to see so many people taking an interest in preserving the local environment and it’s fauna.

But it’s more than just spotting the occasional dolphin.  People go out of their way to attend training sessions, fill in sighting reports, and spend hours scanning the water.  Already this year, they have submitted over 600 sightings so far – that’s a total of 2,467 hours dolphin watching!  A phenomenal effort!

And this is because people care.  They take an interest in the world around them, and want to know the outcomes of the research they’re helping to conduct.  They enjoy spending time in the natural environment, and want to ensure that future generations have the same opportunity.  They are an inspiration – and I hope their numbers continue to swell, bringing benefits to not only the dolphin community but our own community as well.

More Info?

The Dolphin Watch Annual Report (2012-13) became available on 14th June 2013.  For more information about the work of this exemplary citizen science program, have a flick through the report here!