Moreton Bay Dolphin Research Project

Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins at play near the Brisbane River Port, QLD

Australian Humpback Dolphins at play near the Brisbane River Port, QLD

Bordered by the bustling cities of South East Queensland and the beautiful Moreton Bay, North Stradbroke Island and Bay Islands, Moreton Bay is home to a diverse array of marine life, including multiple species of coastal and oceanic dolphins.  Similar to other areas in Australia, the local populations of dolphins in Queensland are considered to be vulnerable to decline or localised extinction because of small population sizes, low population growth rates, high site fidelity and geographic isolation.

Two species of dolphins, the Australian humpback dolphin (Sousa sahulensis) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) inhabit Moreton Bay all year round.  These species are the focus of our long-term Moreton Bay Research Project, particularly the humpback dolphin which has been classified as Near Threatened and a species of high priority.  Assessing the trends in abundance and ecology of dolphin populations requires long-term research projects to determine the health and risks associated with threatening processes.

The objectives of the research are to;

  • Assess and monitor the abundance and trends of coastal dolphin populations in the Moreton Bay Marine Park;
  • Examine the health of the coastal dolphin populations;
  • Examine the use of habitat areas over space and time to identify critical areas;
  • Establish a baseline acoustic catalogue of communicative sounds used by coastal dolphins in Moreton Bay;
  • Investigate the social systems and stability of communicative systems of coastal dolphins in Moreton Bay Marine Park overtime;
  • Determine the threats to coastal dolphins over space and time to provide important information to be used in conservation and management plans.

This information provides important information on the ecology of the species, their health and informs conservation planning and management to ensure the protection of the animals and their habitats for the future.

It is no short-term commitment to achieve these goals. For such long lived species that are very difficult to study in the wild, long-term commitment is essential to establishing an accurate understanding of the status, trends and health of these keystone predators.

As such, in order to achieve our long-term goals, it is necessary to divide the larger ‘umbrella’ project into smaller ‘bite size’ pieces over time. Year-by-year, we focus on different aspects of the ecology and conservation of the bottlenose and humpback dolphins of Moreton Bay. In 2014, we began our data collection surveys in Moreton Bay, collecting the baseline information that we continue to build on.

Healthy Waterways-Healthy Dolphins: Dolphins of the Southern Bay


Primary funding body: Redland City Council

Over 2016-2017, our research will focus on determining the residency patterns and community structure of dolphins in the Southern Moreton Bay region. This will then contribute to identifying and measuring potential risks that may influence the health and well being of dolphins in the region. During the year, we will also be developing multi-media materials for education and opportunities for the public to get involved with the program through our citizen science program.


Urban Waterways and Coastal Dolphins: Health and Status of Coastal Dolphins in Moreton Bay, Queensland

A joint project with the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection


Primary funding bodies: Australian Marine Mammal Centre, Australian Government (2014); Sea World Research & Rescue Foundation (2015)

Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin

Australian Humpback Dolphin

This project kicked off the commencement of our work in Moreton Bay. In collaboration with  the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, the priorities for the first 2 years (2014 & 2015) of data collection and analysis were to provide a estimates and trends of the population abundance of Australian humpback and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Moreton Bay. This would be the first estimate of abundance for the Australian humpback dolphin 27 years in this region and provide insight into the status of the population. Additionally, our work during this year also provided baseline information on the habitat usage and social systems of humpback dolphins in Moreton Bay. Using these data, we could then perform a spatial risk assessment to determine areas of conservation concern for this important population of Australian humpback dolphins and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Such assessments provide essential information for management and conservation initiatives.

2014 & 2015 data collection was Proudly Supported by:

  • Australian Marine Mammal Centre who have provided a grant to undertake the first year of field surveys in 2014
  • Department of Environment Heritage and Protection who are the co-investigators of this project
  • Seaworld Research & Rescue Foundation who have provided a grant to assist in our 2015 field surveys, in-kind vessel and personnel support and and biopsy sampling for this project
  • Southern Cross University Marine Ecology Research Centre who are partners of this project
  • Sealife Underwater World Mooloolaba who have provided assistance for vessel surveys for this project
  • Dolphin Marine Magic who have provided assistance for biopsy sampling for this project
  • University of Queensland Ecotox who have provided assistance for toxicology analysis for this project
  • Dolphin Research Australia EcoVolunteers who provide not only funding support but crew support during the field season.

We thank all our project partners and supporters for your contributions!!

Most of all, thanks to our volunteer crew and eco-volunteers for your passion, dedication and spirit – we couldn’t do it without you!!!

Want to become an EcoVolunteer and join a Moreton Bay Dolphin Research Expedition?

CLICK HERE for more information about our EcoVolunteer Program.