Dolphin Research Project Winter 2020 Update

Sandra and her newborn calf

Moreton Bay Dolphin Research Project

In July, we managed to commence the 7th field season for our Moreton Bay Dolphin Research Project. Due to the COVID restrictions, we were able to have a skeleton team of three people on the boat. But we are very grateful we were able to get a few surveys in – this year being a crucial year in this long-term data which in part aims to record the life histories and breeding of the Vulnerable Australian humpback dolphins and Near Threatened Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Moreton Bay.

Muppet & her calf

During our first surveys, we were overjoyed to welcome some new calves into the Australian humpback dolphin population! Meet Sandra (ID # 60) who we first met during our first year of surveys in 2014. She is part of the community that live near Amity Point, North Stradbroke Island. Sandra is an older female that we can see from the pigmentation loss and density of speckling on her dorsal fin and melon. In 2015, we recorded Sandra with a young calf that is now weaned and known as Sarah (ID #137). Between May and July, Sandra gave birth to a new calf. Sarah is now independent and we have recorded Sarah feeding with other adolescents of similar ages. We will continue to record the life of Sandra and her calves who have become key representatives of their kind. The reproductive and calving success of the Australian humpback dolphin remains unknown and can only be obtained through long-term and continuous records that we are gaining through our Moreton Bay Dolphin Research Project.

We were also luck to encounter Muppet (ID #007) and her juvenile off Lamb Island in Southern Moreton Bay. Muppet is a female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin who is another key female resident to Southern Moreton Bay and the Gold Coast who we have been observing since 2010 (she is also part of our dolphin adoption program). Muppet and her calf were observed feeding with other well-known females including ‘Smudge’ and ‘Dory’ both with their young calves. In hot pursuit of the females was a male alliance keenly following. Taking no notice of the males, the females remained very focused on feeding.

Scallop & Feather surfacing synchronously. This kind of synchronous behaviour and movement is an indication of strongly bonded individuals.

Byron Bay Dolphin Research Project

It’s always exciting when we head out through the surf to survey dolphins along the coast of Byron Bay. There’s nothing quite like watching the resident dolphins as they break through a thumper of a wave at Cosy Corner (Tallows Beach) below the Cape Byron Lighthouse! (as Dr Liz balances herself on a tiny 3m boat amongst the swell holding a camera and a Dictaphone while the skipper steers the boat).

This dynamic area is part of their critical habitat and this nursery group was resting with young calves between these big sets. During our winter surveys, we have had some good observations of our iconic locals who are part of our dolphin adoption program including Scallop and Feather. We were also excited to welcome some new calves into the resident community!

Thank you to our project partner Cape Byron Marine Parks for getting us out there!

Bottlenose dolphins in the Gold Coast.

Healthy Waterways-Healthy Dolphins Project

During the winter months, we have continued to do our monthly surveys in the Gold Coast, Tweed and Ballina estuaries. Some poor weather and logistical challenges have made getting out a bit harder than usual. In the Gold Coast, we also had fewer sightings with no dolphins seen during our June survey. Over the last months, we have also seen fewer groups of dolphins in the Tweed River than in previous years. The reasons for this we are yet to understand, but we are hoping that the local community can help us to record when and where the dolphins are being seen in the area by reporting their dolphin sightings.

Thank you to our project partners: Tweed Shire Council, City of the Gold Coast, Out of the Blue Adventures and Gold Coast Marine Training for getting us out there!