This unique level of background knowledge has led to new understandings about dolphins’ biology, ecology, social structure, and health — and an overall richer understanding of dolphin lives and the challenges big and small that the animals face in their day-to-day lives, providing guidance on how we can help them.
“We found that dolphin communities in localized areas are exposed every day to multiple, concurrent threats from both natural and man-made sources,” Wells said. “Cumulatively, these can have great impact on the future of individuals and populations. Today, much of our research is focused on characterizing and attempting to mitigate these local threats through research, outreach, education, and even direct intervention.”
Thanks to the Program’s expertise, they are often called upon to lead or support efforts to rescue individual dolphins impacted by human-caused problems such as entanglements or boat strikes. The SDRP has been involved in the rescues of 22 bottlenose dolphins along Florida’s west coast — rescues that have a played a role in supporting future generations of dolphins.
“Over the past 50 years, our research tracking individual animals has shown that a single female can produce 11 calves or more during her reproductive years,” Wells said. “Helping dolphins survive to produce future calves is crucial for long-term dolphin communities to maintain long-established social structures and survive and thrive into the future. Every individual matters.”
Since the Program’s inception, the SDRP staff and its collaborators have produced:
- More than 275 peer-reviewed publications;
- Four books;
- More than 100 technical reports;
- More than 720 presentations for scientific and lay audiences, including stakeholder groups and members of the public.
A key focus of the SDRP has also been to train the next-generation of conservation leaders in the U.S. and worldwide, including:
- 42 master’s and 45 doctoral students have benefited from opportunities to work with SDRP on data collection and guidance from staff;
- 396 undergraduate interns and other trainees from the U.S. and other countries have received multi-month training;
- More than 100 foreign colleagues have received training during health assessment projects.
Today, alumni of the SDRP’s training have moved into key positions in wildlife management, including positions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and other organizations around the world.
All told, research conducted through the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program has shown that dolphins have wider, more complex and intriguing lives than the grinning animals popularized in movies and on TV. Over the past 50 years we have learned that the dolphins have lived in their coastal neighborhoods for many generations – we need to do what we can to protect the health of our shared backyard to make sure they can continue to survive and thrive, and so we can continue to enjoy and benefit from our coastal marine ecosystem.