South West Marine Research Program

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Overview

The South West Marine Research Program (SWMRP) was initially founded in 2006 through a partnership between Murdoch University and the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre, with support from the South West Development Commission, and is now composed of partners from industry, government, research and the community. The focus of the SWMRP is conducting research into the dolphins occurring in Bunbury’s coastal and estuarine waters.

A dolphins leaps in Koombana Bay, with Bunbury beyond. Photo: P. Coulthard, DDC.

A dolphins leaps in Koombana Bay, with Bunbury beyond. Photo: P. Coulthard, DDC.

Goal

The SWMRP strives to assess the long-term viability of bottlenose dolphin population off Bunbury, south-western Australia. Through this research, a detailed understanding of the characteristics of the local dolphin population is being obtained. The program is providing critical information for assessing the potential impacts of human activity on dolphins, therefore assisting industry partners in planning their activities in the marine environment while minimizing their impacts on the local dolphin population. The SWMRP is providing indirect benefits to the greater south-west, including: the presence of a tertiary research institution (Murdoch University) in the region; a model for other state-wide marine research initiatives; and, funding for four Murdoch University PhD scholarships and staff salaries. The program receives national and international recognition as a source of quality research, and showcases its partners and the region in national and international media outlets.

Through the SWMRP, the population of bottlenose dolphins occurring off Bunbury have been studied since 2007. Photo: Kate Sprogis

Through the SWMRP, the population of bottlenose dolphins occurring off Bunbury have been studied since 2007. Photo: Kate Sprogis, MUCRU.

Long-term research

Now in its tenth year of data collection, the SWMRP is well-established as a long-term, ongoing study of a coastal dolphin population. Research to date has yielded valuable information on the population’s abundance, habitat use, behavioural and foraging ecology, and genetic connectivity to other populations in south-western Australia. With nearly a decade of year-round monitoring data, the SWMRP is yielding some fascinating results, and is facilitating the investigation of research questions of an increasing diversity and complexity.

four-wayThe above Research Bulletins provide plain-English summaries of recently published SWMRP research. Top left: an analysis of seven years of population data (pdf here). Top right: how year-round monitoring revealed seasonal sensitivities in dolphin behaviour, resulting in a legislated no-go zone (pdf here). Bottom left: an investigation of how the home ranges of bottlenose dolphins vary between the sexes and different habitats (pdf here). Bottom right: research revealing seasonal variability in the biomass and energy density of potential dolphin prey species in Bunbury waters (pdf here).

SWMRP timeline

This project is currently in its third stage of research, with Stages 1 and 2 having been completed in previous years. Follow the links below for more details on each phase:

Stage 1 (2007-2010): Three research areas:

  1. Dolphin abundance and ranging patterns
  2. Prey dynamics
  3. Population genetics

Stage 2 (2010-2013): Two research areas:

  1. Dolphin population monitoring and habitat modelling
  2. Dolphin health research via veterinarian and pathological investigations

Stage 3 (2014-2017): Three research areas:

  1. Dolphin population monitoring
  2. Consequences of human-wildlife interactions
  3. Dolphin health research
Bottlenose dolphins socialising in Koombana Bay. Photo: Holly Raudino, MUCRU.

Bottlenose dolphins socialising in Koombana Bay. Photo: Holly Raudino, MUCRU.

Publications arising from the SWMRP

Current and past SWMRP partners

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