Keeping track of coastal dolphins

PROFILES: Dolphin Ecology and Acoustics Project researcher Dr Liz Hawkins (front) with SCU Environmental Science students Colette Boraso (rear) and Tara Pearson.
PROFILES: Dolphin Ecology and Acoustics Project researcher Dr Liz Hawkins (front) with SCU Environmental Science students Colette Boraso (rear) and Tara Pearson. David Nielsen

THE health of our coastal dolphin population is a bit of a mystery, according to Southern Cross University research fellow Dr Liz Hawkins.

To correct that, the university’s principal investigator in its dolphin ecology and acoustics project is now calling on members of the public to help build a better profile of these wonderful coastal creatures.

Dr Hawkins launched the project yesterday, under the shadow of the Cape Byron Lighthouse, and hopes to receive many individual photos of dolphin dorsal fins, so she can build a database.

Photos of fins are like fingerprints to humans, and they can be used to monitor population trends, and ultimately the health of a species.

Surfing activists David Rastovich and Howie Cook have thrown their support behind the project, and will use the muscle of their organisation Surfers for Cetaceans to help draw attention to the project.

“With the exception of our estuary population, like those at the mouth of the Richmond, we know very little about our coastal bottlenose dolphin population,” said Dr Hawkins.

“One photo can give us so much information, and if we have multiple sightings that really helps us build up a valuable database of information.”

Anyone in the community can become a certified Dolphin Sighting Network member by attending one of the workshops being planned up and down the coast.

The first workshop session will be held at the Byron Bay Community Centre, SCU room, on Friday May 21.

There will be two workshops on that day, the first from 2pm to 4pm and the second from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

“The workshops will be presented by researchers and provide an overview of dolphin ecology, behaviour and communication and provide tips on what to look for, how to distinguish individual dolphins and how to take a good photo for research purposes,” Dr Hawkins said.

As part of the Dolphin Ecology and Acoustics Project, members of the community, businesses and schools can also participate in the ‘Adopt-a-dolphin’ program which will assist in providing funds for ongoing research.

Visit the website or email

The first Dolphin Sighting Network workshops at Byron Bay are being offered at a special price of $25. Bookings via the website.

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