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Queenscliffe Herald Article - May 2007

Our Unique Dolphins

Article from a talk given by Kate Charlton in Queenscliff to the AGM of the Swan Bay Environment Association

Many of you will have seen dolphins swimming off the Queenscliff coastline or diving in front of the ferry as it crosses the bay. Even more special is actually swimming with these special creatures on one of the local dive tours.

It has now been realised that these Port Phillip Dolphins are genetically unique.

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) are found all over the world but show variation from population to population. Worldwide, bottlenose dolphin show both morphological and genetic differences. This level of variation has made it quite complicated to classify populations into actual species.

The 80-100 resident bottlenose dolphins, living in southern Port Phillip Bay have been the subject of over 10 years of research undertaken by the Dolphin Research Institute. This study has involved identifying individual animals via nicks and notches found on the dorsal fin of the dolphins. Each dolphin can have permanent marks that can allow the researchers to track movement patterns, calving rates and particular associations found within the population. More recently, in affiliation with DRI, a Monash University PhD study being conducted by Kate Charlton is investigating the genetic make-up of the dolphins found across coastal Victoria. Ms Charlton has found that these dolphins, including the Port Phillips’ population, are substantially genetically different to any other known dolphin population worldwide and may represent a new dolphin species.

Researchers from both DRI and Monash University are continuing the research to fully characterise these unique dolphins, including surveying other populations across Victoria. They hope to identify the level of reproductive isolation between these populations and those found in more offshore locations, their movement patterns, and how they utilise the Bay and its resources. The team also attends and performs post-mortems on all animals that have unfortunately died. They can gather so much information from a deceased animal that would not normally be available from one that is alive.

This research is incredibly important, not only to classify this new unique dolphin species, but to ensure that these dolphins will remain in our backyard for future generations to enjoy.

More information on dolphins can be found at the website of the Dolphin Research Institute:
www.dolphinresearch.org.au/


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