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Long-term study looks at threats to dolphin population


Brigid Veale
28 May 2014

A new season of research, part of the longest ongoing study of the Australian snubfin dolphin and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, is getting under way in Central Queensland.

The Capricorn Cetaceans Project (CCP) is looking at the long-term conservation and management of inshore dolphins in Central Queensland, knowledge that will also inform the conservation and management of cetaceans around the world.

The project is led by Dr Daniele Cagnazzi, a postdoctoral research fellow with Southern Cross University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre, who has been working in the region for nine years.

“Both the snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohni) and the Indo-Pacific humpback (Sousa chinensis) dolphins are potentially endemic to Australia and because of their inshore restricted distribution, face a number of threats including water pollution, by-catch, boat traffic and habitat degradation,” Dr Cagnazzi said

This year he is calling on all members of the public to get involved by uploading any sightings.

“We can then use this information to build the life history of each individual. From that we can extrapolate survival rate, reproduction rate, mortality and abundance,” he said.

This project is supported by Fitzroy Basin Association Inc. through funding from the Australian Government and Southern Cross University.

Dr Cagnazzi’s research includes the collection of skin samples to determine the genetic make-up of the different dolphin populations. The samples are taken using a biopsy system specially designed for inshore dolphins.

The method, used worldwide, involves a small plastic dart which takes tiny samples only from the skin and outer blubber layers of individual dolphins. It is painless and designed to minimise any distress to the animal.

“The biopsy samples can be used to determine the gender of the dolphins, social relationships among individuals and the genetic flow between geographically isolated populations and the genetic variability within a population,” he said.

Professor Peter Harrison, director of the Marine Ecology Research Centre, said Dr Cagnazzi’s research was providing critical information for the survival of these species.

"There has been relatively little known about inshore dolphins, particularly in northern Australia,” Professor Harrison said.

“His research has provided some of the best long-term information we have on those species in Australian waters and helps to ensure the survival of these species.”

Dr Cagnazzi will have an information tent in collaboration with the Fitzroy Basin Association at the next Gladstone Ecofest on Sunday June 1st at the Tondoon Botanic Gardens.

Additionally more detailed Information sessions on the Capricorn Cetaceans Project are being held for any interested members of the public:

Gladstone: 2 June, Gladstone Public Library, 4.30pm.

See the website for dates and times for Rockhampton and Yeppoon.

Photo: A snubfin dolphin surfaces. Photo by Daniele Cagnazzi.