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Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute

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Title: Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute  
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Subject: Bottlenose dolphin
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Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute

The 'Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute' is a marine science and education center, committed to conserving the diversity and integrity of marine life to meet the needs of current and future generations. To meet this aim BDRI researchers carry out field research projects and provide scientific and volunteer support.


BDRI concentrates its efforts on research into dolphins because they are predators at the top of their food chain, so their well-being provides an excellent indication of the health of the entire ecosystem on which they, and humans, depend. Large, charismatic mammals, from elephants and pandas to whales and dolphins, also command tremendous public interest and are consequently an excellent way of generating public awareness of, and concern about, wider environmental issues. Whales and dolphins around the world are under threat from Marine pollution, over-fishing, getting entangled in nets, whaling and uncontrolled tourism.

The BDRI's team of researchers carry out one of the longest ongoing research projects of a resident dolphin population in the Mediterranean Sea. BDRI is partner to ACCOBAMS, the UNEP's Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area.

Bottlenose dolphins are protected by European law, but in order to develop effective protection guidelines, education and research is necessary to find out much more about the dolphins and the pressures they face. The BDRI has educational and research programmes aimed at providing extra support for scientists early in their careers, science students, local students and scientists from developing countries, including training opportunities in the field, grants, and online and field courses.

Significance of BDRI research projects

Cetacean populations are affected by man's use of coastal waters, particularly by fisheries activities and habitat modification. A science-based response to the conservation problems created by interactions between human activities and dolphins depends critically on accurate knowledge of the impacts caused by the interactions. Pressures of commercialism and larger scale tourism activities are now increasing drastically in the Mediterranean Sea. By increasing our knowledge about dolphins and their environment, BDRI researchers will be in a strong position to protect the animals from these and other threats caused by humans. Using study techniques that neither harm nor seriously disturb the animals, BDRI researchers are engaged in the conduction of a long term study about the ecology and behaviour of a Mediterranean bottlenose dolphin population along the north-eastern coast of Sardinia, as well as collecting detailed information about their environment.

BDRI research projects provide scientific data to assist environmental agencies in managing and conserving marine natural resources and to obtain fundamental knowledge about this behaviourally flexible and cosmopolitan species.

Previous and current BDRI research projects

1. Interaction between dolphins and coastal fisheries (1999 – in progress). BDRI researchers conducted a first attempt at analyzing interactions between dolphins and gillnets along the north-eastern coast of Sardinia (Italy). Although dolphins benefit from taking fish entangled in gillnets, the association with gillnets is harmful because it exposes dolphins to additional risk. An observed annual estimate of the number of dolphins caught in gillnets was 3.54%. The extent of the estimated by-catch is worrisome in terms of the ability of bottlenose dolphins off Sardinia to sustain such an annual loss. The higher annual numbers of immature dolphins than adults dolphins caught in gillnets was related with a lack of experience together with and the tendency of immatures to play and/or to spend a lot of time scouting.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

2. Environmental and biological effects associated with the presence of aquaculture industry (2004 – in progress). Notable increases in coastal aquaculture make it vital to study the environmental effects associated with their presence. Increase in organic material, resultant from aquaculture activities, acts as an attractant for fish species and consequently their predators. BDRI's researchers have examined the effects of aquaculture on marine fauna in general, and more specifically, the impacts of aquaculture on dolphins in different marine fin fish farms off the coast of Sardinia, Italy. One of the objectives of these studies was to determine the variables that influence the presence and abundance of dolphins in the fish farms area.[3][4][10][11][12]

3. Bottlenose dolphin presence and incidental capture in marine fish farms (1991 – in progress). Marine aquaculture and, in particular intensive fish farming, have shown a large expansion in most Mediterranean countries over the last ten years. To curb predation, many marine fish farms employ control methods which exclude, harass or remove predators. One such method, predator netting, creates a physical barrier that protects farmed fish from attacks by airborne and underwater predators. The incidental capture of marine mammals by commercial fisheries is often a controversial and emotive issue. A potential impact on marine mammals as a result of aquaculture interaction is death or injury through entanglement in gear. BDRI researchers carried out the first attempt in the Mediterranean basin to obtain information on encounter rate, group size and incidental capture of bottlenose dolphins in a marine fish farm. The regular occurrence of some dolphins suggests individual preferences for the fish farm area. The incidental bottlenose dolphin capture observed in large, loose predator nets is cause for concern, as it is questionable whether or not the bottlenose dolphins in the area can sustain incidental capture of this magnitude. The information gained from this study showed the necessity for further regulations to be established, both in the use of predator nets and management of marine fish farms.[1][3][4][5][6][8][10][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21]

4. Trial of acoustic deterrents for prevention of dolphin bycatch (2007 and in progress). BDRI researchers observed that the use of pingers reduces dolphin mortality due to bycatch on gillnets. Definite proof that acoustic devices have a long-term effectiveness has not been found. The Dinner Bell and Habituation factors must be taken into consideration to test in future studies.[22][23]

5. Boat traffic effects on bottlenose dolphin behaviour (2006 – in progress). Bottlenose dolphins living around coastal regions have received much attention due to their increased vulnerability of inhabiting areas where marine traffic is concentrated. Marine traffic has previously been observed to elicit responses in cetacean behaviours, but the cause and effects of these interactions has yet to be fully understood. BDRI's current study area of Aranci Bay, Sardinia, provides a unique insight into an area where the interactions of bottlenose dolphins and vessels remains largely unchecked. Our studies showed that the dolphins were surfacing less regularly in the presence of vessels and this response was further enhanced during vessel approaches. Moreover, by examining the influence of different types of vessel it was evident that the dolphins elicited a stronger response to tourist than fisheries vessels. The behaviour vessels display around the dolphins as well as speed, engine type and distance of approach were all factors that needed to be taken into consideration when analysing the changes observed. Research is contributing to a wider management scheme to ensure that marine traffic is monitored effectively when bottlenose dolphins are present.[23][24][25][26][27]

6. Interaction between a solitary wild dolphin and marine traffic off the Spanish coast (2005–2006). Solitary wild bottlenose dolphins and humans frequenting the same small areas makes boat interaction more or less inevitable. BDRI researchers provided the first quantified data about solitary bottlenose dolphin diving behaviour in the presence and absence of boats on the north-western coast of Spain. The data reported by BDRI researchers could be used to implement precautionary management proposals that take into account the potential effects of boat presence on dolphins.[28][29]

7. Mediterranean bottlenose dolphin's repertoire and communication use (2005 – in progress) Until recently, communication behaviour had a limited role in conservation, being restricted to enhancing captive breeding programs or use in species counts. However, knowledge of how individuals within a population communicate can generate information ranging from measures of habitat use, social relevance, geographical variation, cultural transmission, etc., that can be applied to conservation. Marine mammals use sound for activities essential to survival and reproduction. Bottlenose dolphins are extremely vocal mammalian species, and vocal communication plays an important role in mediating social interactions. Amid the abundant literature pertaining to vocalizations of bottlenose dolphins, very little is known about the vocal repertoire of Mediterranean wild bottlenose dolphins. BDRI bioacoustical studies carried out year round from 2005 represent the first attempt to obtain information on the repertoire and production patterns of bottlenose dolphins resident in an area characterized by important interaction with human activities (tourism, aquaculture and coastal fisheries). Many vocal signals were strongly implicated in social and feeding interactions. Although many of these vocalizations have been previously described in the literature, their association with specific behaviours linked with human activities provides additional contextual information about their potential use as communication signals. One of BDRI's most recent projects shows that the number of whistles recorded in a group increased significantly as the number of mother-calf pairs increased, confirming that whistles may be used as contact calls. These studies use benign techniques to demonstrate the great diversity of communication signals emitted and indicate a functional role of these vocalizations during the observed behaviours.[3][30]

8. Effects of noise pollution on the communication of bottlenose dolphins (2007 – in progress). Cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) are often faced with the challenge of hearing strange sounds in environments with noise from both natural and anthropogenic sources. BDRI researchers have documented that human-introduced noise induces behavioural reactions in bottlenose dolphins. In addition noise pollution is being considered as a cause of displacement of cetaceans from preferred habitats. Short-term noise pollution may not create significant problems. Repeated or long-term noise pollution, however, can cause stress and debilitation and may be related to dolphin mortality. Related scientific publications:[31]

9. Human activities and dolphins' social structure (2004 – in progress). Assessing the consequences of fisheries and habitat modification with relatively obvious effects on marine predators can be difficult. BDRI researchers were the first to show how coastal fisheries and aquaculture are not only directly affecting marine predators but could also indirectly affect their social structure and behaviour. BDRI researchers suggest that the main management issues raised by their studies relates to the dolphins' habitat. The feeding opportunities for dolphins that are created by human activities have become part of their "way of life", part of their habitat requirements. When top predators display complex social responses to activities not directed at them, the task of studying all possible effects in the food chain can become even more challenging. Further work should focus on elucidating how human activities induce social and spatial changes in marine top predators.[3][13][32][33]

10. Marine aquaculture: Ecosystem effects evaluated through trophic mass-balance models (2007 – in progress). Marine aquaculture is an important growing worldwide industry. BDRI modelling studies, the first of their kind to use a mass-balance model of trophic interactions in the Mediterranean basin, focused on how changes induced by the presence of a marine fin fish farm affect fish communities in an environment where nutrient scarcity limits productivity. This type of information is important in order to estimate the potential effects of finfish aquaculture on coastal ecosystems and, therefore, to identify the species which play a key role in the processes of ecosystems affected by coastal aquaculture. Additionally, this study was used to evaluate the conflict between top predators and the aquaculture.[3][34][35]

Dissemination of research results

Disseminating the information from the BDRI is as important as collecting it in the first place, so that it may benefit as many dolphins as possible. The BDRI is dedicated to this goal, having produced numerous scientific and general publications and conducted frequent public and professional presentations since 2000. Graduate student thesis research and training programs for scientists, students and volunteers help to spread the information and techniques worldwide.

BDRI field reports, thesis and scientific publications resulting from these projects reach a wider audience in the environmental sector. Results of the projects will allow BDRI researchers to publish several and prestigious scientific papers in different areas (mammals' social structure, ecological modelling, mammals' behaviour, cetaceans' by- catch, aquaculture-fisheries and bioacoustics). Additionally, results are shared and disseminated online, locally (with public presentations in Sardinia, articles in local newspapers), nationally (presenting results to the Italian Cetacean Society conference, national magazines and newspapers), internationally (with scientific journals, International Whaling Commission reports, ACCOBAMS workshops, and presenting results to international marine science conferences and more).

BDRI volunteers

Although the BDRI volunteering project focuses primarily on bottlenose dolphins, BDRI volunteers also experience the complex Mediterranean coastal ecosystem in which we live and work. Unlike many other research teams, this volunteering program offers a wide spectrum of educational tools that go beyond the "average research period". The volunteering periods are designed to enhance awareness of dolphins, other marine life and marine habitat. The goal is to have each volunteer depart the centre with a greater understanding and appreciation of the marine environment and the wealth of life it supports. Learning, at its best, should be an active process, one in which the volunteers are challenged on a daily basis with responsibilities that play a large part in the outcome of the research projects. Volunteers will actively participate in data collection and analyses as part of ongoing research.

BDRI's volunteering opportunities provide a hands-on learning experience that incorporates boat based field work, marine mammals conservation, dolphins research, lab work and encouragement to work hard, have fun, and learn from the dolphins and each other. Most volunteers recruited by BDRI are either keen amateurs or have no scientific background but are highly motivated. English is normally the working language, but there are people at BDRI who also speak Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

BDRI Environmental policy

As a marine science research team, BDRI researchers have witnessed first hand the effects global warming and climate change have on our planet. Every year new tropical species are catalogued in north Sardinia as having arrived from tropical waters as an effect of global warming, and entire ecosystems are being affected. BDRI researchers are committed to the implementation of proactive measures to help protect and sustain the local and global environment for future generations. The BDRI aims to achieve the objective of improved environmental performance through pollution prevention and continuous improvement. All BDRI members, workers and volunteers are expected to conduct their work in a manner compatible with the BDRI's Responsible Travel policy and objectives.

1. BDRI seeks to conserve natural resources by ensuring the responsible use of energy, water and materials by the continual implementation of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle).

2. BDRI knows the importance of reducing the energy consumption derived from the use of polluting fossil fuels and promotes the use of renewable energy.

3. From 2009 supporting renewable energy through "BDRI Carbon Free expeditions" has been a solution to reduce the air pollution associated with boat field expeditions. BDRI's campaign for carbon free expeditions is simple in its implementation. To neutralize cruise related greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, the BDRI calculates the amount of carbon emitted by each research cruise itinerary it offers and then divides that by the number of volunteers cruising each year. In turn, when a volunteer participates in the project, BDRI contributes a portion of the volunteering fee to buy solar pannels to produce renewable energy and reduce the air pollution associated with electricity production during research. Furthermore, the "BDRI Carbon Free Expeditions" campaign has no effect on the price of its volunteering opportunities in any way. In other words, the cost of the campaign is not passed on to the volunteer.

5. BDRI will continue to take steps to minimise any detrimental impacts on the environment caused by the operation of their researchers and volunteers. BDRI aims specifically to minimise the adverse environmental impacts associated with effluent discharge, water use, emissions to both air and water, and waste generation through best available techniques as they emerge in order to prevent pollution and also to maintain water quality.


External links

  • The Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute BDRI: Dolphins, Education and Research
  • Mailing list of the BDRI
  • Blog of the BDRI
  • Mediterranean Bottlenose Dolphin Photo Gallery

Coordinates: 41°00′15″N 9°37′06″E / 41.004303°N 9.618361°E / 41.004303; 9.618361

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