To better understand and protect the dolphins and wildlife in Monkey Mia and Shark Bay through research.
The Shark Bay Dolphin Project
In 1982, American researchers Richard Connor and Rachel Smolker flew half-way around the world to capitalize on a unique opportunity in a remote bay in Western Australia. There, at the Monkey Mia beach, was a small group of wild bottlenose dolphins that would swim right into shore to be hand-fed by humans.
From these few animals, their research quickly expanded to include hundreds of Shark Bay dolphins, and their visit in turn led to the establishment in 1984 of an extensive long-term study of the population, carried out by an international team of scientists from prestigious institutions in Australia, Europe, and North America. The long-term records of the animals are currently managed in a database at Georgetown University that is a collaboration between biologist Dr. Janet Mann and computer scientist Dr. Lisa Singh.
The dolphins of Monkey Mia beach provide a unique window into dolphin society. In return, research has helped protect these dolphins by providing basic information and demonstrating the effects of provisioning on wild animals. This research has had a considerable impact on local and international management policies pertaining to dolphin-focused tourism.
The research now encompasses thousands of hours of systematic data collection in the field and many more in the lab. Hundreds of dolphins are surveyed and cataloged each year. Their behavior, ecology, genetics, development, communication, social structure, predators, and prey are all being researched at Monkey Mia, making this one of the most important dolphin research sites world-wide. What's more is this is all accomplished non-invasively, without tagging or capturing the dolphins.
Since dolphins live such a long time, at least until their early 40s, even simple facts, such as the number of calves born to a female in her lifetime, require decades of study. We look forward to future research and discoveries.
Cover Photo Credits: Dolphins underwater - Ewa Krzyszczyk, Beaching dolphin - Alessandro Ponzo, Dolphin with fish - Alessandro Ponzo, Sunset - Yi-Jiun Jean Tsai, Leaping dolphin - Simon Allen