PhD student Claire Daniel is researching the population genetics of bottlenose dolphins in South West Australia, with emphasis on the Bunbury region.
The aims of the project are to provide:
- a species identification of the dolphins in Bunbury and wider SW WA.
- an estimation of the level of gene flow (mixing) between dolphin populations along the coast of SW WA. Sampling locations include Esperance, Albany, Augusta, Busselton, Bunbury, Mandurah, Cockburn Sound, Swan River and Rottnest Island.
Small tissue samples (skin/blubber) are obtained from free-ranging dolphins using a remote biopsy system. Once obtained, the samples are stored and later used for biological and ecological studies including, but not limited to: species identification, phylogeography, gene flow and population structure assessments (genetic analyses); food web and dietary studies (stable isotope and fatty acid signature analyses); and environmental and anthropogenic pollutant studies (contaminant analyses).
Following a sighting of a dolphin of interest, and upon assessment that sampling is appropriate (behaviour of dolphin, conditions at sea), the individual is approached and darted with the biopsy dart. The biopsy dart is retrieved and the tissue sample is extracted and stored in a small vial containing either ethanol or salt-saturated 20% DMSO. The dolphin’s behavioural response is monitored and notes are recorded on data sheets. This research is carried out under Animal Ethics Approvals and permits from the Department of Environment and Conservation.
Claire has obtained more than 250 tissue samples from different individuals. She is currently analysing and writing up her PhD.