Dol­phin re­search bears fruit

Pilbara News - - News - Bran­wen Smith

■ A third year of dol­phin re­search off the North West Cape has drawn to a close, with ex­cit­ing new ob­ser­va­tions be­ing re­ported and pre­vi­ous re­search find­ings about to take cen­tre stage in the US.

North West Cape Dol­phin re­search leader Daniella Hanf said the re­search team had re­cently pub­lished a book chap­ter ti­tled Hump­back Dol­phins of Western Aus­tralia: A Re­view of Cur­rent Knowl­edge and Rec­om­men­da­tions for Fu­ture Man­age­ment.

She said pre­vi­ous re­search leader Tim Hunt would be mak­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion about the Aus­tralian hump­back dol­phins of the North West Cape at the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Marine Mam­mals Con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco.

Ms Hanf said this sea­son re­searchers had clocked up 3000km on the ocean, pho­tograph­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing dol­phins and be­gin­ning to un­der­stand their be­hav­iour and dis­tri­bu­tion.

“Hump­back dol­phins are quite elu­sive and the North West Cape can be a chal­leng­ing study site, in­flu­enced by high winds and swell, which make dol­phin de­tec­tion dif­fi­cult,” she said. The re­searchers won­dered whether cy­clone Quang in May and higher lev­els of rain­fall might have af­fected dol­phin dis­tri­bu­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the ear­lier part of the sea­son when they en­coun­tered fewer, but larger, groups of hump­back dol­phins.

Ms Hanf re­ported mixed-species in­ter­ac­tions be­tween hump­back and bot­tlenose dol­phins, which could be unique to the North West Cape.

“This leads us to ask ques­tions about how they may be shar­ing re­sources, pro­tect­ing them­selves against preda­tors or what re­pro­duc­tive ad­van­tages gain,” she said.

She said t pho­to­graphs of dol­phins taken by com­mu­nity mem­bers and com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors had been matched to in­di­vid­u­als in the re­searchers’ cat­a­logue.

She said this was par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing when the pho­to­graphs had been taken from out­side the study area.

The re­search team thanked the Ex­mouth com­mu­nity for its con­tin­ued sup­port.

The team will re­turn next year with a fo­cus on the Ex­mouth Gulf and Nin­ga­loo re­gion.

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Pic­ture: Daniella Hoff

A bot­tlenose dol­phin and a lighter-coloured hump­back dol­phin in­ter­act off the North West Cape.

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