Coffin Bay Dolphin Project: First part of our second fieldwork season!


by Cecilia Passadore

The summer-autumn fieldwork season has started!!! After a couple of months away from Coffin Bay analysing photos of dolphins we are back and very enthusiastic. We are back with more than 220 individuals in our catalogue and knowing more about these dolphins.

It’s very exciting for us to start to be able to recognize the dolphins when we see them swimming and to distinguish groups of individuals that seem to remain together and live in particular areas of the bay… so we have fun guessing who we can meet in each place! During this season we are joined by another Brazilian volunteer (Flavia) and an American (Kate)… so, now we only speak English, finally!!!... but, to be honest, Spanish always comes up, especially when we get really tired after several hours of survey.

Besides the activities we were doing last year, this year we are also collecting little samples of skin for genetic analysis. This is a new challenge to our boat surveys and makes even more interesting our days on the water. Now whenever we find a group we try to photo-identify all of the individuals and then, depending on animals’ behaviour, we focus on biopsy sampling the animals within the group. With these samples we’ll be able to assess their gender and kinship and use this information for analysis of social structure.

So far we’ve done 14 surveys during a month and a half, a bit more frequent than last season as the wind has given us a break during 2014! We’ve already found more than 80 groups of dolphins and we were able to gather 38 skin samples, most of them of known individuals. The preliminary photo-id analysis of the season shows that most of the individuals are the same that we’ve already seen last spring and they were included in our catalogue since last year. Thus, up to now, our first assumptions are supported, the population is showing high site fidelity and a complex pattern of use of different areas and preferential social groups are being revealed.

For us this is Burrunan dolphins paradise!!!... we’ll see what else we can learn from them in the next months and what else Coffin Bay surprise us with. So far, and luckily not to get bored of a single species, we’ve also found other interesting animals such as common dolphins in the deeper waters of the bay, sea lions, penguins, hundreds of jelly fish, rays of sizes never seen by us before and some marine turtles. One of the most amazing encounters occurred the first day we went out to Coffin Bay’s water while we were doing a pilot survey. That day we saw something rare moving out of the water in the centre of the group of dolphins that we were following… it was hard to believe, but YES, that thing that we were steering at was the flipper of a huge leatherback turtle! She stayed swimming together with the dolphins for a while and they even come up to the surface together to breath… now that I remember that was our welcome to Coffin Bay! ufff… THANKS!