Are dolphins affected by human activities at the popular holiday destination of Hawaii?
This is the question Murdoch University PhD candidate Julian Tyne hopes to answer through his research into the Hawaiian spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) as part of his Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) Scholarship.
The project to collect baseline data on the numbers, locations and behaviour of local spinner dolphins at Hawaii's big island will be funded over the next three to four years by the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Marine Mammal Commission.
Mr Tyne’s supervisor, Dr Lars Bejder, said emergent research showed that cetacean-based tourism – boat-based and swim-with – can cause biologically significant impacts on targeted dolphin communities.
“In Hawaii, the dolphin-based tourism industry has grown rapidly in the past two decades,” said Dr Bejder, Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit’s research leader.
“Limited quantitative data is currently available to assess potentially biological significant impacts of tourism activities on targeted animals.
“Hawaiian spinner dolphins have predictable daily movement patterns, foraging offshore at night and returning to inshore sheltered bays to rest during daytime – this set movement pattern may render them particularly vulnerable to disturbance because of their reliance on a limited area of sheltered waters to rest, socialise and avoid predators.”
Mr Tyne will use a suite of modern visual and acoustic techniques in four resting bays in Hawaii to collect data that will be used to investigate the effects of human interactions on the dolphins and assess the effectiveness of closing some bays at set times as a mitigation approach.
Dr Bejder has led similar research projects in Western Australia, including a Shark Bay monitoring project which resulted in legislative changes to enable the local dolphin population’s conservation. Similar monitoring projects are currently underway in Bunbury and Binningup.