In January 2016 we will be commencing a new 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.
We are delighted to announce that we have secured funding (from the City of Mandurah, Mandurah Cruises and Murdoch University) to commence this research project, which will initially run until September 2016 (Stage 1). We will be surveying the inland waters of Mandurah (Peel Inlet, Harvey Estuary, Mandurah Channel and Dawesville Cut) as well as coastal State 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.
Stage 1 (2016-2017)
Stage 1 of the MDRP will initiate the population assessment, which 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;
- evaluate what environmental variables are associated with the distribution of dolphins and
- investigate whether sex specific patterns exist for any of the above.
Although genetic biopsy sampling will start during the summer season (January, 2016), it is unlikely that enough dolphins are sampled within the first year to determine the population boundaries and connectivity. Stage 1 will allow us to start recognising patterns of site fidelity; however, for quantitative analyses of home range patterns and to assess whether there are discrete communities within the population, additional data collection beyond Stage 1 is required. Once funding beyond Stage 1 has been secured, we envision that the Mandurah Dolphin Research Project will become a long term monitoring program.
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.