LOCALS: Just a few of the nearly 100 dolphins that call Byron Bay home.
LOCALS: Just a few of the nearly 100 dolphins that call Byron Bay home. Picasa

Eco-volunteers wanted to help dolphin researcher

ECO-VOLUNTEERS are wanted to help Dolphin Research Australia continue research into the local dolphin population in and around Byron Bay and Ballina.

Working aboard the Ironbark from Ballina and Byron Bay during January and February, locals and visitors alike are invited to take part in a research project to assist in improving the understanding and conservation of the local dolphin populations.

Led by Dr Liz Hawkins, founding director of the local charity Dolphin Research Australia, the long-term research project aims to assess and monitor aspects of the biology, ecology and status of coastal dolphins in the Byron Bay-Ballina region.

Running over the past 12 years, this is one of the few projects of its kind, with Dr Hawkins so far uncovering just some of the many mysteries of the wild ways of dolphins.

"There is much that remains unknown and it is only through long-term projects such as this that we can truly gain a true indication of how these animals live and what they need to survive," Dr Hawkins said.

"Our eco-volunteer teams will actively participate in observing and recording dolphin behaviour and acoustics during the surveys."

The research will be taking place over the peak birthing period for dolphins in our region.

For a fee, volunteers can join the working research team for a single day or multiple day surveys on board Baysail's vessel Ironbark.

Cost for a single day survey is $135 and two days and one night expeditions is $550.

For more information, go to: dolphin researchaustralia.com or email info@dolphinresearchaustralia.com

Local Dolphins

EVERYONE loves dolphins, and in Byron Shire, dolphins could almost be considered to be the local mascots.

Since 2003, through her long-running research project, Dr Elizabeth Hawkins has gotten to know quite a few individual creatures and she does have her favourites.

"There are about 1000 dolphins in the super population that use the bay and I guesstimate around 100 are resident here," she said.

"There are some special areas around Wategos and Cosy Corner that we call the dolphins' bedrooms. These are critical spaces for birthing, rearing and teaching the young.

"One particular favourite is Scallop who you see a lot around Wategos and Cosy Corner and she often has a calf with her.

"Another is Feather, one of the most beautiful females I have seen. She is like the wise elder of the group. I have often seen her teaching the young in and around Wategos.

"The third dolphin is Cousin and you often see the three of them together in the female pods.

During the course of her research, Dr Hawkins also seen more than her share of sharks.

She is concerned that some of the shark mitigation strategies, including so-called eco-nets and smart drum lines, proposed for the North Coast may have an adverse impact on local dolphins.

"My biggest concerns are the drum lines. They do alter dolphin behaviour and dolphins will feed from them and will occasionally get caught," she said.

"Eco-nets are very much an unknown.

"They are supposed to create a barrier ... but I have seen none of the data on how affective they may be."

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