The famous dolphins of Shark Bay, Western Australia, have been studied in detail since the early 1980s. More than 35 years of scientific research into one of our planet’s most fascinating populations of wild animals has provided insight into their behaviour, genetics, communication and ecology, including the daily challenges they face to find mates and food, and to avoid enemies and predators. Shark Bay is a busy place for a dolphin, packed with friends and foes, collaborators and competitors. Vast seagrass meadows provide forage for turtles and dugongs, and a nursery for fish; shallow sand flats and mangroves are home to invertebrates, rays and small sharks; deeper channels support sponge gardens and rocky reefs, providing hunting grounds for sea snakes, large sharks and, of course, dolphins.
With this myriad of niches to exploit, but so much competition for food and mating opportunities, we find a population of dolphins with incredibly complex social lives and an intriguing repertoire of foraging specialisations, including tool use. Alas, this unique ecosystem is vulnerable to the pressures associated with climate change. To find out more about our long-term research, dive into the Dolphin Alliance Project and the Dolphin Innovation Project, or click below.