Dolphin research bears fruit
■ 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.
A bottlenose dolphin and a lighter-coloured humpback dolphin interact off the North West Cape.