While bottlenose dolphins are one of the, if not the, most recognised, charismatic marine species, they are still classed as data deficient by the IUCN. We currently do not have a sufficient understanding of their population however we do know that population numbers are decreasing and therefore a further understanding of their population dynamic is vital to the monitoring and protection of these incredible animals.
Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is home to the largest UK population of bottlenose dolphins where the Sea Watch Foundation has developed a large photo ID catalogue containing over 1000 photos of around 450 individual dolphins.
The dorsal fin of a bottlenose dolphin is as unique to each animal as a fingerprint is to a human. Over the course of the dolphin’s life, their social interactions will lead to scarring and knicks and notches. We can use this as well as naturally occurring colouration and marking to identify individual dolphins through photographs. This allows us to track the dolphin’s movements, life history and family relations in a non-invasive manner.
Claudia aims to update the catalogue and to make an easily shareable and user-friendly version of the catalogue to send to other organisations and scientists around the UK. This PDF version of the catalogue will not only include update photographs of the dolphins but will provide a map of individual home ranges, first and last dates sighted as well as any familial relationships known to the individuals.
Reaching out to other organisations and individuals around the UK will allow Claudia to further detail the movements of individual animals by matching fins with animals spotted in the waters outside of Cardigan Bay. Furthermore, she will be running a ‘photo-a-fin’ campaign which encourages the involvement of citizen scientist through sending in photographs of dolphins that members of the public may have sighted.
With the help of PTES this project will achieve two main objectives. While the population of bottlenose dolphins are protected while within the SAC, we know that they travel for the winter and therefore become unprotected, if we can understand the movement of these animals, we can make recommendations for further management and protection of the dolphins. Furthermore, ensuring that the photo-ID catalogue is easily accessible will not only encourage cooperation between NGOs throughout the UK, it will additionally promote the involvement of citizen scientists to become involved with the conservation of bottlenose dolphins through a better understanding of their population dynamics and movement.
Have you snapped a bottlenose fin somewhere around the UK? You can help! Send Claudia your image and let her know when and where you saw the animal; maybe she will even find a match to it in the Sea Watch Foundation catalogue!