All dolphin photography taken under MMPA Permit #21938-03.
May not be used for commercial purposes.
Our field team recently completed 12 days in a row on the water. Everyone is a little bit exhausted and possibly a little bit sunburnt, but it was a great opportunity to collect important data on our local dolphins! We launched out of various points so that our survey efforts in those 12 days covered from Cedar Key down to Crystal River, about 30 miles of coastline. In that time, we were on the water for a total of 72 hours and had 54 dolphin encounters. The variation in the days can be drastic – on one day out, we had what we call “dolphin soup”, meaning we had hardly any breaks between sightings because there were dolphins everywhere as far as the eye could see! On another day, we were out for 5 hours and didn’t see a single dolphin! We were excited to find animals doing plenty of Driver-barrier foraging on several days, which is the focus of much of our research. We have seen 4 different groups doing DB foraging, collecting data on over 60 occurrences within the 12 days out, which is a great boost for our data this season!
During the field season we use every opportunity to be on the water like this, no days off. The goal of the field season is to use these 12 weeks to collect as much data as possible for the year, so we must take advantage of good conditions when we have them. A storm coming through the gulf could easily keep us on shore for a week or more without collecting new data. A lot goes into making this decision. Every morning we check the wind speed, swell, tides, and radar. We continue to monitor the weather throughout the day for any storms that could potentially threaten lightning. While we want to collect as much data as possible, it is also important to be safe on the water, so if conditions are not in our favor, we are on shore working through data analysis in the lab.
During lab days, most of our time involves doing Photo ID, meaning we sort and review the photos of the animals to correctly match fins. To do this, we must crop all pictures of each dolphin in each sighting, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of photos in a day. After cropping, we begin to match fins and organize them to determine the number of dolphins we saw within a sighting. We then match each individual to the existing collection of known animals in our Photo ID catalog. After completing each step, another team member does a double check to ensure data quality.
During our lab days we are also kept busy entering the data collected into the database, plus processing recordings we take of underwater audio and video from the drone. While the still pictures allow us to identify each dolphin we encounter, the audio and drone video elements allow us to see and hear what happens under the water, which adds a whole new dimension since we are limited from the boat to only seeing the animals when they come up to the surface to breathe. With the audio and video we can collect, we can then answer research questions about foraging behaviors and social interactions between the animals in detail we have never been able to achieve previously.
This summer we are trying to get drone footage of dolphins foraging, specifically when they are engaging in Driver-Barrier foraging. We've documented this behavior from the boat (and added hydrophone recordings to hear what sounds they are making), but we've believed an aerial view would give us a lot more information on how they set up a bout and the exact positioning of the dolphins as the bouts occur. This would help us figure out why they do what they do any maybe why they choose their specific locations for this activity.
We were able to capture a couple of instances of the dolphin, "Speed", and her new calf foraging. Speed is a little different Driver than the usual (she doesn't do it that often), but here's a clip from our attempt at recording her! What we didn't realize is that we would be able to see the schools of fish before the bouts as well! This opens up a whole new world of questions for us:
Now the less great part of the field season. We had some unexpected and big repairs to the boat engine and the drone, and no doubt you've noticed the cost of gas recently. If you can help us out to keep this season running, we'd greatly appreciate your help on our GoFundMe campaign. All donations are tax deductible! Thank you!