Dolphin diet and foraging ecology

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Lead researcher


Research aims

  1. Improve understanding of the food habits of bottlenose dolphins in Bunbury waters
  2. Improve understanding of the foraging behaviour of bottlenose dolphins in Bunbury waters

Specific objectives

  • Estimate the relative abundance, composition, and energy content of prey species in the nearshore waters of Bunbury in summer and winter months.
  • Compare the presence of prey species with stomach contents of stranded dolphins.
  • Investigate trophic level interactions of dolphins and prey using stable isotope analyses.
  • Develop a spatially-explicit model of environmental drivers in the coastal region influencing dolphin movement and behaviour.

A dolphin catches a small fish in the waters off Bunbury, WA. Photo: MUCRU.


Three fishing gears (seine, trap, and gillnet) were used to sample fish from sites within three habitats (ocean, bay, and estuary) during summer and winter months from 2008-2010. Over 45,000 fish were caught and identified! (The majority of fish were released alive after being weighed and measured).

The most commonly captured fish were burned in a bomb calorimeter to determine energy content per gram. Stomachs from 12 stranded dolphins were dissected and prey parts identified. Samples from plankton, algae, fish, crabs, and dolphins were analyzed for signatures of carbon and nitrogen to determine approximate feeding locations and trophic levels.


ShannonThe above Research Bulletin provides a plain-English summary of Shannon’s recently published SWMRP research, which revealed seasonal variability in the biomass and energy density of potential dolphin prey species in Bunbury waters (pdf here).


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