BYRON BAY DOLPHIN PROJECT
POPULATION DYNAMICS, ECOLOGY & THE IMPACTS OF HUMAN ACTIVITIES
In 2003, research on the Byron Bay coastal dolphins in Australia began. This research has provided valuable baseline information on this population. Results of this research have revealed that the Byron Bay region is utilized by over 1000 bottlenose dolphins that live in highly structured societies. Within this large population, only an estimated 30% are resident throughout the year. Critical habitats for these resident groups, which consist primarily of females and calves, have been identified within areas of concentrated human activity.
We are currently working to determine the population trends and health over time, which can only be achieved by long-term research projects such as those of Dolphin Research Australia. We are also continuing research into understanding the complexities of dolphin social structure and residency patterns. Monitoring of the levels and types of encounters with humans will also continue with research outcomes used as a basis in minimising risk of disturbance and ensuring the health of the population into the future. Our work with our project partners in Byron Bay is striving to ensure sustainable levels tourism and other human activities take place to keep the dolphins safe and their environment healthy.
Population Characteristics of Byron Bay Dolphins
The population is characterized by a sexually segregated fission fusion society with a number of resident mother-calf groups occupying specific areas along the coastline (Hawkins & Gartside, 2008). There is an apparent high percentage of fluidity and movement of groups with many using the area for limited amounts of time. Within the population there are, however, a number of resident communities that utilize specific areas throughout the year (Hawkins & Gartside, 2008).
Preliminary abundance modelling calculations estimate the population (i.e. dolphins that could use the Byron Bay region throughout the year) is around 865 individuals (95% C.I. ± 861-869). We are still working on estimating how many dolphins are resident throughout the year and how many are just visiting periodically. Our research is also working on estimating the survival, fecundity rates and trends of our Byron Bay populations.
Critical & Important Habitats for Byron Bay Dolphins
Our research has identified some areas of significance for our dolphin populations. These areas are primarily used by our female dolphin groups for socialising, resting and teaching their young. They will also periodically use these areas to feed and forage opportunistically. In the figure below, the areas of critical and important habitat for Byron Bays dolphins are shown along with the locations of dolphin groups we’ve observed during our land-based surveys.
This area of critical habitat is of high importance to the survival of our local dolphin communities who use it on a daily basis. This area is also where many recreational and tourist activities take place. Such activities can pose a threat to the health and wellbeing of these communities by increasing levels of stress, disrupting critical behaviours and degrading habitat. Our work is helping to ensure that our communities of dolphins remain safe and these areas remain a sanctuary for them.Map showing critical and important habitat areas for T. aduncus in Byron Bay. The large circle represents the identified important habitat zone and the smaller circle the critical habitat zone for Tursiops aduncus. Locations of all groups containing calves, adults only and ‘unknowns’ observed within the Byron Bay study area (map courtesy of Greg Luker, Southern Cross University, 2010).
Our Byron Bay Dolphin Research Project 2009-2013 included seasonal land-based data collection from the Cape Byron Lighthouse and vessel based surveys with the Cape Byron Marine Parks team and kayaking. The focus of the research during this time included information on human-dolphin interactions and identification of areas of importance to local dolphin populations. Following 2013, the land-based surveys were complete with the focus of observations connected to our Northern Rivers Dolphin Watchers group data collection. If you would like further information about this program, please go to our Get Involved tab and follow the link to Dolphin Watchers.