Whale and dolphin research
In order to protect dolphins we require good baseline information about the species natural history and life, as well as the threats they are facing through whale and dolphin research. Such baseline studies have not yet been undertaken for cetaceans in Peru. Therefore we are interested to learn how many dolphins are there, where are their feeding areas and what fish they do hunt for? What is the animals’ home range, how many babies do they have and how many survive? What are the threats they are facing in different areas (bycatch, direct hunt, contamination, etc…) ? These and other questions are important for the development of conservation strategies.
In order to resolve this we need long-term whale and dolphin research and monitoring efforts that provide us with reliable and detailed information. Photo-identification research is the best scientific tool to obtain such information.
Bottlenose dolphins establish and maintain dominance by biting, chasing, jaw-clapping, and smacking their tails on the water. They scratch one another with their teeth, leaving superficial lacerations that soon heal. Traces of light or dark parallel stripes (tooth-rakes) remain on the skin of the dolphin. These marks have been seen in virtually all species of dolphins.
The use of photo-identification of individual dolphins based upon natural markings has been used as an alternative to identification based upon artificial markings, such as tagging and freeze branding. The presence of nicks, scars, and notches on the dorsal fin provides a sufficient set of features for identifying individual adult dolphins.
When implementing whale and dolphin research via photo-identification scientists photograph dolphins in their natural surroundings and compare new photographs of their dorsal fins against a catalog of photographs of previously identified dolphins.
The manual photo-identification process, although effective, is extremely time consuming and visually stressful, particularly when large collections of pictures have to be reviewed. Human error is also very common, especially when the concentration of the reviewers goes low after several hours of computer based picture review. Therefore we are using special software to support the process.
DARWIN is a computer vision system that helps researchers to identify individual bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, facilitating the comparison of digital images of the dorsal fins of new dolphins with a database of previously identified dolphin fins. The software provides a graphical user interface to create and access a collection of digital dorsal fin images along with textual information which describes individual animals as well as relevant sighting data.
Once we have identified an animal we can add the sighting data in our data base and begin statistical analysis. The longer we investigate and the more survey data we have, the better we will be able to understand how the dolphins live and how we can protect them.
So far (Jan 2010), we have identified in an area of 180 km of coastline between Lima and Paracas 1512 dolphins with more than 600 of them displaying patterns of residency in the area. This is one of the highest coastal bottlenose dolphin densities worldwide. Therefore dolphin watching offers a great opportunity to give value the living animals as an alternative source of income for coastal communities, instead of killing them for human consumption.
Mundo Azul offers you two ways to become involved in dolphin research and support our work while enjoying our dolphins:
You can become a dolphin conservation volunteer and take part in a full month of dolphin research. Your participation makes our dolphin research possible because your participation fee is used not only to pay your costs but also to help financing our research.
You can go dolphin watching in Peru or whale watching in Peru with our associated travel operator Nature Expeditions. You will be guided by Mundo Azul field researchers. When encountering the dolphins they have the opportunity to collect their field data, while guiding you. This way your dolphin watching tour becomes not only great fun, but also an unforgettable learning experience and at the same time you are part of real research and supporting species conservation.
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Page author: Stefan Austermühle
Reviewed by: Lori Moak-Keen
Last updated: 2010.09.30.
If you have any questions, comments or want to support us, please contact us.
Whale watching as an alternative to dolphin killing
Mundo Azuls whale and dolphin research
Freedom for dolphins – NO to captivity