A TEAM of Southern Cross University researchers and local marine parks staff have once again hit the waters of the Cape Byron Marine Park to monitor the movements and behaviour of dolphins and assess the levels of dolphin-human encounters.
The Dolphin Ecology and Acoustics Project team, led by Dr Liz Hawkins, are conducting their summer field work in conjunction with Cape Byron Marine Park staff from January 14 to February 18.
The research team will be observing the dolphins on land from the Cape Byron Lighthouse and in the water from kayaks and by boat.
"We have been monitoring this dolphin population since 2003. During that time we have identified over 550 individual dolphins. We have also identified the area off the Cape Byron Lighthouse as critical habitat for the resident dolphin community," Dr Hawkins said.
"This time of year is the peak birthing time for our local dolphin populations. It is important that anyone who encounters a group of dolphins does so with care and abides by the NSW dolphin watching regulations (do not approach dolphins closer than 50 metres or closer than 150 metres if calves are present)."
Dr Hawkins said the mothers and calves that could be regularly found resting near to shore and close to Watego's Beach were vulnerable to disturbance, particularly at this time of year.
"These resident females and their calves are the most vulnerable dolphins in the population as they are living in a zone where there is the chance of high levels of human interactions so we need to monitor them closely to ensure their protection," she said.
The Dolphin Ecology and Acoustics Project aims to examine the ecology of dolphins and monitor the population dynamics, trends and health over time. This information will assist in ensuring their ongoing protection within the Cape Byron Marine Park.
The researchers have also been conducting studies in the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads area and off Coffs Harbour.
The public are invited to participate in the research by reporting their dolphin sightings at the Project's website www.dolphinresearchaustralia.com