Bunbury’s South West Marine Research Program receives support for Stage 3

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Research into the impacts of human activity on Bunbury’s bottlenose dolphin population has been given a financial boost by local industry, government and community organisations.

The Southern Port Authority-Port of Bunbury, the South West Development Commission, Cristal Mining and the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre are all partnering with Murdoch University to fund further investigations into local dolphin abundance, births, deaths, social structure and habitat use in the area.

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Murdoch University is inviting other local organisations and businesses to become funding partners in the study, which will assist all those contributing with planning their activities in the marine environment so they can minimise their impacts on the local dolphin population.

“The Bunbury dolphins are exposed to recreational boating traffic, commercial shipping traffic, marine wildlife tours and fishing,” said Professor Lars Bejder from the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit (MUCRU).

“Understanding the consequences of this activity has been of growing interest globally and could inform research into dolphin populations near built up areas and techniques to effectively protect them in many different parts of the world.

“The bottlenose dolphins of Bunbury are a wonderful asset to the town and this research will help to ensure the long-term viability of the population.”

The University has led research into the Bunbury dolphin population since 2007 when the South West Marine Research Program (SWMRP) was launched with partners: the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre, the South West Development Commission and the Southern Port Authority-Port of Bunbury (formerly Bunbury Port Authority).

Since then other partners from government, industry and the community have helped to greatly improve the understanding of dolphin numbers, biology, gene flow and behaviours in the area. These partners have included the City of Bunbury, Department of Parks and Wildlife, ILUKA, BHP Worsley Alumina Ltd, WA Plantation Resources and Newmont Boddington Gold.

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“More than 580 boat based photo identification surveys have been completed resulting in more than 1600 dolphin group sightings with 463 individuals identified over the past eight years between Binningup and Peppermint Beach,” said Professor Bejder.

“Dolphin abundances are seasonally dependent with consistently lower numbers obtained during winter and higher during summer and autumn. Abundance estimates vary from about 65 dolphins in winter to around 140 in the summer/autumn.

“Detailed information on abundance, individual habitat use, ranging patterns and reproductive success, genetic connectivity and relatedness, and demographic information is now available for much of the population.”

The latest funding is for stage three of the SWMRP and will build on information already gathered by researchers in the last eight years. Murdoch PhD candidate John Symons will be conducting the research.

General manager of the Dolphin Discovery Centre, David Kerr, said the research undertaken through the partnership with Murdoch University and local industry had already proven useful in a number of environmental assessments for projects in the region.

“It has allowed us to suggest ways in which projects can be undertaken that deliver a desired outcome without negatively impacting the local dolphin population,” he said.

Rob Liley, acting chief operating officer of Southern Ports Authority – Port of Bunbury, said: “The dolphin research program provides valuable insight into the dolphin habitats in Koombana Bay, which in turn assists with future planning of port activities and development projects.”

South West Development Commission chief executive officer Don Punch said it was important that information about the interaction of people and the local dolphin population was understood.

“As our population grows together with use of the waterways, it is important that we have quality information to guide our interaction in a way that protects the dolphin population,” he said.

Ken Bell, WA Operations Manager from Cristal Mining said: “Cristal Mining is proud to be a founding partner of our neighbour, the Dolphin Discovery Centre. Their centre and this important research program through Murdoch University provides valuable insights for our community. We are delighted to continue our partnership with the South West Marine Research Program.”

For further information on the SWMRP and opportunities to fund research, please contact Professor Bejder on l.bejder@murdoch.edu.au

Lars Bejder PhD
Lars Bejder PhD
Professor Lars Bejder PhD is the Research Leader of the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit.
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