Building local capacity to research and monitor dolphins

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Last week, I (PhD student Alex Brown) headed to Broome to present a training workshop for Yawuru Traditional Owners in the collection and analysis of dolphin survey data. A full day of presentations and practical exercises was provided for participants, which included Yawuru Country Managers and other staff from Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY), along with Yawuru Rangers from the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) / Yawuru joint management team.

Learning the theory and putting it into practice. Yawuru Rangers and Country Managers match their own photos to a catalogue of individuals identified through previous research.

Learning the theory and putting it into practice. Yawuru Rangers and Country Managers match their own photos to a catalogue of individuals identified through previous research.

Over the past 18 months, Yawuru Country Managers and the DPaW/ Yawuru Rangers, with support from WWF-Australia, have been running twice-monthly surveys in Roebuck Bay, recording sightings of dolphins and other marine species, and collecting photo-identification data on snubfin dolphins. This project aimed to build capacity among Traditional Owners to collect data on marine fauna in their Sea Country, while at the same time contributing valuable data to the conservation of this important population of snubfin dolphins.

Up to twice a month, Yawuru Rangers and Country Managers have been running surveys in Roebuck Bay.

Up to twice a month, Yawuru Rangers and Country Managers have been running surveys in Roebuck Bay.

The training workshop provided the opportunity to explore some of the data collected to date, in addition to providing guidance on the principles of collecting dolphin sightings and photo-identification techniques. We learnt about different methods for studying dolphins, the importance of consistency in survey procedures and data collection, interpreting behaviour, and how to use photographs to study individual dolphins within the population. In the afternoon we then split into groups and got stuck into the photographs – using dorsal fin markings to match many individuals to those identified during previous research.

Example slides from the workshop: correct search patterns, group definitions, and using dorsal fin characteristics to identify individuals. © Alex Brown

Example slides from the workshop: correct search patterns, group definitions, and using dorsal fin characteristics to identify individuals. © Alex Brown

The day included presentations from Holly Raudino, of DPaW’s Marine Science Program, who reported back on research findings and demonstrated the DolFin database as a tool for managing dolphin data across WA. We were also joined by Andrew Halford, DPaW’s Monitoring Coordinator for Kimberley Marine Parks. Andy gave a presentation on the need for consistency in the collection and management of Marine Park monitoring data. He also showed us how data can be collected electronically, through customisable tablet and phone apps, reducing the time required to enter data and minimising the risk of human error.

It was a long day of learning, but also a lot of fun. I am very grateful to Nyamba Buru Yawuru for facilitating the workshop, to Holly and Andy for their valuable contributions, and of course the enthusiastic participants and all their excellent questions and insight. The skills developed through this project will be increasingly valuable in the future with the establishment of the Roebuck Bay Marine Park and its associated monitoring requirements.

The end of a long day and still smiling. Back row, left to right: Nathan Kay (NBY), Alex Brown (MUCRU), Holly Raudino (DPaW), Andy Halford (DPaW), Cornell Tolentino (NBY), Julie Melbourne (NBY), Philip Pedro (NBY), Jason Fong (DPaW/Yawuru Rangers), Pius Gregory (NBY), Wayne Edgar (NBY). Front row: Darren Stevens (DPaW/Yawuru Rangers, left) and Dean Mathews (NBY, right).

The end of a long day and still smiling. Back row, left to right: Nathan Kay (NBY), Alex Brown (MUCRU), Holly Raudino (DPaW), Andy Halford (DPaW), Cornell Tolentino (NBY), Julie Melbourne (NBY), Philip Pedro (NBY), Jason Fong (DPaW/Yawuru Rangers), Pius Gregory (NBY), Wayne Edgar (NBY). Front row: Darren Stevens (DPaW/Yawuru Rangers, left) and Dean Mathews (NBY, right).

For more information on the Roebuck Bay environment and its marine life, check out Roebuck Bay Working Group.

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