Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (Perth)

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Perth Metropolitan Waters

Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project

The Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (CEDP) is a collaborative, multi-institution project, combining the research expertise of Curtin University and Murdoch University with the support of a variety of corporate, community, and government partners.

Along with traditional scientific approaches, CEDP also supports community-based monitoring through the innovative Dolphin Watch program.


Our coastal and estuarine ecosystems have changed greatly over the last century and increasing pressures from development and climate change will continue to transform these unique environments. These changes present significant challenges for the conservation of dolphins within our estuaries and along our coasts.

The goal of CEDP is to ensure that dolphins remain vital and functioning parts of the estuarine and coastal ecosystems around Perth. We believe this is best achieved through an integrated program of scientific research, community involvement, and strategic partnerships to join the conservation efforts of industry, government, and community.

CEDP follows a partnership model, with project partners drawn from State and Local Government, industry, and the broader Perth community. Key partners include Fremantle Ports, the Swan River Trust, and the Cockburn Sound Management Council.


The primary objectives of CEDP are to:

  • conduct rigorous and innovative research into the health and
ecology of dolphins around Perth;
  • provide scientific information to industry and government to support dolphin conservation;
  • share information and expertise with the Perth community to improve community-based conservation and
monitoring efforts for dolphins.

Research for CEDP builds on several previous Murdoch University studies of dolphins in the Perth area dating back to 1993. These studies provide an invaluable baseline for the current research. Curtin University and Murdoch University also have a long history of studying the fish communities and marine habitats of the Perth area, including more than 25 years of research into the fish assemblages of the Swan-Canning Estuary. CEDP also draws on the unique expertise of veterinary pathologists from Murdoch University and bioacousticians from Curtin University.

Current Research

Population Assessment Project
Delphine Chabanne, a PhD candidate at Murdoch University, is currently undertaking comprehensive investigation into the ecology and population structure of dolphins inhabiting the coastal waters between Scarborough and Rockingham and the estuarine waters of the Swan Canning Riverpark.

The study uses photo-identification and strip transects to assess dolphin abundance, habitat use, and ranging patterns within an area encompassing over a three-year period. Sampling effort is stratified across four zones (Cockburn Sound, Owen Anchorage, Gage Roads, and the Swan-Canning Estuary) and across all four austral seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter).

Information from the Population Assessment project will improve our understanding of how many dolphins occur in the Perth region, what habitats are important to them, and how dolphins are distributed along the coast. It will also provide critical information on the current size, composition, and ecology of the resident dolphin communities associated with the Swan Canning Riverpark and with Cockburn Sound.

The deaths of six Swan River dolphins in 2009 emphasised the need to better understand the health of dolphins within our estuarine and coastal ecosystems. As part of the Marine Mammal Health Project {link to MMHP page}, Dr Nahiid Stephens and Dr Carly Holyoake from Murdoch University are investigating the health and pathology of dolphins from the Perth area. This research uses post-mortem examinations to gather information on factors affecting dolphin health, including the prevalence of primary and secondary pathogens and human-induced injuries. Tissue archiving is also undertaken to support contaminants and other analyses. In 2014 research using skin biopsy samples from live animals from the Swan River will commence in order to assess their contaminants burdens and whether or not these can be correlated to levels of various biomarkers. This will provide valuable information regarding the potential impact (or lack thereof) contaminants may be having on the population.

Dolphin Watch
Started in 2009, Dolphin Watch now involves more than 600 community volunteers in the monitoring of dolphins in the Swan Canning Riverpark. The Swan River Trust, a statutory management body, runs Dolphin Watch in collaboration with Curtin University and Murdoch University. In June 2013 we released the 3rd edition of FinBook – a catalogue of dolphins observed within the Swan Canning Riverpark.

Entanglement in discarded fishing is a major source of mortality and injury for dolphins in the Perth region. The Swan River Trust is taking active measures to encourage better disposal of fishing line within the Swan Canning Riverpark, including the fitting of disposal bins near key fishing sites in the Riverpark.

Supporting CEDP
Our vision for CEDP is straightforward. We believe that the best future for our dolphins lies with coastal and estuarine ecosystems that are healthy and resilient and with human communities that are actively engaged in the conservation and monitoring of their local dolphin populations.

Our goals are to achieve:

    1. Better Science for Conservation
      Improve the scientific basis for dolphin conservation within the Perth region.
    2. Enhance public understanding about threats to dolphins and their habitat.


    Support actions to reduce the incidence of entanglements, boat strikes, and other harmful human-dolphin interactions.

  1. Better Management

Support the integration of dolphin conservation efforts across government, industry, and
community stakeholders, including maritime, foreshore, and catchment-based industries; management agencies;
recreational boaters and fishers; marinas and yacht clubs; local governments; developers; and recreational and environmental groups.

How can you help?

Become a Dolphin Watch volunteer
Contact the Swan River Trust’s River Guardians program on 9278 0900 or at

Support the Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project
We are seeking your help to implement this important research. To make a donation to the CEDP please complete a donation form and return it to the Murdoch University Foundation.

To enquire about corporate gifts or financial partnerships, please contact the Office of Development at Murdoch University.

Phone: +61 (08) 9360 6507

Donations are fully tax-deductible and will be issued with a receipt.


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