Whale and dolphin research

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Mundo Azul – Calle Francisco del Castillo 506 – Miraflores, Lima – email us at: mundoazulorg@gmail.com


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 (December 2013), we have identified in an area of 180 km of coastline between Lima and Paracas more than 1600 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.


Distribution of reserach effort over time 2006 - 2012
Distribution of research effort in kms per year

Given the difficulty to obtain research funds on a continuous basis however the coverage of the research area is not equally distributed neither over time nor geographic range. The best coverage we could establish in the areas between Lima and Asia Island (100 km) with six years of coverage and between Paracas and Qebrada Topara (80 kilometers) with three years of coverage. The area in-between from Asia Island to Quebrada Topara provides great difficulties in access due to missing port infrastructure and was covered intensively only during 2007 and occasionally during other years. The areas south of the Paracas Peninsula and north of Lima were covered only once implementing one-month expeditions.


Geographical distribution of research effort in number of surveys per sector 2006 to 2012


Given the difficulties of long-term finance and lacking access and port infrastructure along the Peruvian coast however we feel that the research is providing still a unique and very rich data set:

  • From 2006 to 2012 our team and the mostly volunteering assistants managed to navigate a total of 22,650 kilometers (That’s more than half around the world or 9.5 times along the entire Peruvian coast).
  • During this time we encountered 874 bottlenose dolphin groups.
  • Of these groups we took and evaluated one by one a total of 65,818 pictures (that is the number after having discarded all unclear and otherwise not useful pictures).
  • We managed to identify and survey a total of 1,594 distinct adult bottlenose dolphins and more than 200 dolphin calves. For many of them we have survey data covering six years of their life.
  • The economic value of this research (calculating donations, tourist trips, volunteer support, consultant contracts and other sources of income, as well as the cost for buying and maintenance of boats) can be estimated in more than 400,000 $US.

We also would like to point out that this is the first time ever that anyone has realized a long term and large scale population study on any of the 31 cetacean species being registered in Peru. The results of this research therefore are of crucial importance to raise awareness about the conservation for cetaceans, as well as to plan, design and implement conservation measures for cetaceans in Peru.

We are currently in process of completing the evaluation of all our research data and within the next months we will start publishing our results concerning:

  • Population size and distribution
  • Resident versus transient dolphins
  • Habitat use
  • Hunting behavior
  • Individual and group home ranges
  • Environmental impacts of port infrastructure construction (noise, displacement, increased aggression)
  • Altruistic behavior
  • Boat-dolphin interaction
  • Negative impacts of dolphin watching tourism
  • Presence and distribution of skin disease
  • Presence and distribution of external parasites

We are hoping to be able to raise additional funds in order to be able to continue field research


Stay in touch with Mundo Azul!

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on our Facebook page “Mundo Azul International

Mundo Azul – Calle Francisco del Castillo 506 – Miraflores, Lima – email us at: mundoazulorg@gmail.com


Be a conservation volunteer with Mundo Azul

Take part in dolphin and wildlife conservation projects, advocacy campaigns, environmental education and much more


Apply for an internship

If you want to dedicate a few months or more to meaningful conservation work in Peru, than this is the option for you.


Book the following trips with Mundo Azuls commercial partner Nature Expeditions in Peru in order to support our conservation work

coastal marine birding               coastal wetland birding                                                     Urban birding in Lima


Protected bird site                                           Coastal desert oasis

Pantanos de Villa                                               Lomas de Lachay                                              Birding in the Andes





Please also support the following conservation campaigns

Save the dolphins          Save the sharks