In January 2016 we commenced a research project aimed at gaining a solid understanding of the bottlenose dolphins using the Peel-Harvey and adjacent coastal waters in Western Australia. The overall aim of the project is to conduct a population assessment. This involves characterising population size and structure, habitat use and genetic connectivity between the dolphins using the estuarine and coastal areas. Together with the Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (CEDP) in Perth and the South West Marine Research Program (SWMRP) in Bunbury (Figure 1), the Mandurah Dolphin Research Project (MDRP) has a strong emphasis on investigating how best to manage and protect the estuarine and coastal dolphin populations that are subject to many impacts posed by coastal development, including entanglements, habitat degradation, boating activities and pollution.
The MDRP study area includes the Peel-Harvey waterways (Peel Inlet, Harvey Estuary, Mandurah Channel and Dawesville Cut) as well as coastal State and Federal waters from Point Peron to 25 km south of the City of Mandurah (Figure 2).
Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit (MUCRU) has been studying adjacent bottlenose dolphin populations in Bunbury and Perth for nearly a decade (Figure 2). The MDRP design and methodology will closely follow that established by these projects to allow for comparisons to be made between the populations occupying the three major estuaries in the South-West of Western Australia.
The MDRP aims to:
- determine how many dolphins use the Peel-Harvey waterways and adjacent coastal waters;
- investigate whether dolphins show long-term fidelity to particular areas in the study area;
- assess if discrete ‘communities’ of dolphins occur within certain areas;
- assess the genetic connectivity of Mandurah dolphins to other populations to the north and south; and
- investigate differences in foraging ecology of coastal vs. estuarine dolphins in the study area.
The MDRP will fit into a broader framework encompassing both science and community engagement. The population assessment underway will assess the long-term viability of the Mandurah dolphin population which, in turn, will assist government, industry and local community groups in planning their activities in the marine environment, while minimizing impacts on the local dolphin population.
- Royalties for Regions Regional Grants Scheme/Peel Development Commission
- John and Bella Perry
- Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group