Category Archives: DIP

Oct 2016 – Another DIP field season comes to an end

Four months of fieldwork in the western gulf of Shark Bay saw generally poor field conditions in terms of wind and rain, but solid data collection none-the-less for both Ph.D. student Sonja Wild and Dr. Stephanie King. A big thanks to Research Assistants Helen Hiley, Sara Niksic, and Rebecca Cope for their time and effort. Following are some happy snaps from the season:

Stormy weather…2 Storm

A golden trivially makes its way up the food chain…3 Golden trevally end

Sherman shows off his healed shark bite and scans the shallows for fish…4 Sherman in the shallows

Caipirinha struts his stuff in front of a young male…5 Cai strut

Humphrey the Wonder Spaniel considers joining a male alliance…6 Humph n dolph

Pinata shows off her newborn calf…7 Pinata and Huitzilopochtli

Relaxing (snagging) with friends in Blind Strait…8 Snaggers

Little fins; big fin…11 Little dorsals big dorsal

Sublime South Passage…18 Sublime South Passage

Sunset on salt, the young Seamen and season #10…20 Sunset on salt

Watch this space for an update on the Dolphin Alliance Project’s 35th (!!) field season.

June 2016 – Six field biologists, five weeks through (a four-month field season), three opportunistic acoustic follows, two shelling dolphins… and a new calf for sponging Sunny…

This is more quick-photo-update than information-loaded-blog, but suffice to say that the weather has not been particularly predictable. We have concluded, based on a respectable sample size, that working for the Bureau of Meteorology (or indeed holding down any sort of weather predicting job) is clearly one of the best jobs in the world, since one can be completely wrong on a day to day basis, yet still get paid!

Enough of the whining though: we have exploited the good hours to the fullest, more team members arrived (now Stephanie, Sonja, Helen, Simon, Livia and Michael – so we could double the efforts with two teams on the water), and the data is rolling in: photo-ID surveys up over 150 already, into the double figures for focal follows (most with acoustic recordings and some helikite-cam footage), and the team and equipment functioning supremely well. We’ve said goodbye to Michael (too soon), but will have Sam on-site shortly (not soon enough!).

Following is a little photo story of the past few weeks. Disclaimer: Obviously the selection is somewhat biased toward when we’ve had smooth seas. We’re assuming no one is particularly interested in seeing whitecaps in the channel, fog and rain, or us tapping away in the office.

Featured image: A trio of allied males ‘snagging’ in the channel;

1. The kind of morning that holds considerable promise;

1 Sunrise

2. Humphrey the Wonder Spaniel assists with setting up the helikite and hydrophones;

2 Team

3. The team survey ‘KAN’ the dolphin in the shallows north of the salt loader;

3 Team

4. ‘JUL’, the occasionally shelling ol’ fella, up on the flats;

4 Julian

5. The team on a five hour focal follow in magic conditions;

5 Team

6. The team north of Heirisson and Bellefin Prongs following bad-boy ‘Kah-NUUUt’;

6 Team

7. ‘RAD’, the sea grass and the salt;

7 Radar and the salt

8. <sigh> ‘RAD’ in the Shark Bay aquarium… only better, because the only walls are those in RAD’s imagination;

8 Radar in the Shark Bay aquarium

9. Sublime sunset after a few epic days on the bay;

9 Sunset

10. Sometimes too much kit is never enough (but we do have several gulfs to cover!);

10 Kit

11.  Some channel boys and the Useless Loop salt mountain;

11 Dolphins and salt

12. The gorgeous ‘SUN’, foraging with a sponge and keeping her 3-day-old newborn close;

12 Sunny and Cloudy

Onward into June (if it could please stop raining).

May 2016 – New publication in Molecular Ecology

Hot on the heels of our recent publication in Frontiers (see: Rankin R, Nicholson K, Allen S, Krützen M, Bejder L, Pollock K (2016). A full-capture Hierarchical Bayesian model of Pollock’s closed robust design and application to dolphins. Frontiers in Marine Science 3: 25. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00025), we are very pleased to announce the publication (online early view) of our most recent paper in Molecular Ecology:

Title: Genetic isolation between coastal and fishery-impacted, offshore bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops spp.) populations.

Authors: Simon Allen, Kate Bryant, Robert Kraus, Neil Loneragan, Anna Kopps, Alex Brown, Livia Gerber and Michael Krützen.

Abstract: The identification of species and population boundaries is important in both evolutionary and conservation biology. In recent years, new population genetic and computational methods for estimating population parameters and testing hypotheses in a quantitative manner have emerged. Using a Bayesian framework and a quantitative model-testing approach, we evaluated the species status and genetic connectedness of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops spp.) populations off remote northwestern Australia, with a focus on pelagic ‘offshore’ dolphins subject to incidental capture in a trawl fishery. We analysed 71 dolphin samples from three sites beyond the 50 m depth contour (the inshore boundary of the fishery) and up to 170 km offshore, including incidentally caught and free-ranging individuals associating with trawl vessels, and 273 dolphins sampled at 12 coastal sites inshore of the 50 m depth contour and within 10 km of the coast. Results from 19 nuclear microsatellite markers showed significant population structure between dolphins from within the fishery and coastal sites, but also among dolphins from coastal sites, identifying three coastal populations. Moreover, we found no current or historic gene flow into the offshore population in the region of the fishery, indicating a complete lack of recruitment from coastal sites. Mitochondrial DNA corroborated our findings of genetic isolation between dolphins from the offshore population and coastal sites. Most offshore individuals formed a monophyletic clade with common bottlenose dolphins (T. truncatus), while all 273 individuals sampled coastally formed a well-supported clade of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (T. aduncus). By including a quantitative modelling approach, our study explicitly took evolutionary processes into account for informing the conservation and management of protected species. As such, it may serve as a template for other, similarly inaccessible study populations.

The full citation is Allen SJ, Bryant K, Kraus R, Loneragan N, Kopps A, Brown A, Gerber L, Krützen M (2016). Genetic isolation between coastal and fishery-impacted, offshore bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops spp.) populations. Molecular Ecology doi: 10.1111/mec.13622

You can find the paper at URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mec.13622/full

 

 

May 2016 – And so it begins in the West… with wind, William, and a weather balloon (sort of)!

 

The western gulf field season has kicked off with a ba… aad stretch of windy weather. Low-pressure system after low-pressure system in the aptly named roaring 40s to the south of the Land of Oz have meant the infamous ‘sausage highs’ over Shark Bay and the associated howling sou-easters. So much for the magnificent ‘May in the Bay’!

On the positive side though, the team was well and truly ready to roll when the first lull appeared. We scored four days, or part there-of, in a row, and made data collection happen while the sun shone.

We ventured into the Denham Channel just southwest of the ship loader on the first afternoon out. What started as an encounter with a single adult male dolphin soon turned into 26 animals, including members of four different male alliances and a few females. Cameras snapping, hydrophones in, dolphins a-socialisin’!

1 Social dolphins

1. A socialising sub-group of Shark Bay dolphins.

 

Conditions seemed to favour a look in Useless Inlet the following day… we were duly rewarded after a few surveys, finding the famous William the Concherer (yes, yes, we now know they’re not conches, but it sounds a whole lot better than William the Shellerer!). As the Inlet went to a glass out, the first focal follow of the season saw constant foraging, and several shelling events. Some hours later, we returned to the boat ramp at Cosy Corner, the evening sun casting glorious light. There is nothing Useless about this Inlet (unless, of-course, you’re a colonial white fella in desperate need of fresh water).

2 William the trumpeter 3 Inlet magic

2. William forages in Useless Inlet; 3. Bellefin and Heirisson Prongs float atop a horizonless bay.

 

The next day saw some surveys of the usual suspects in the shallows north of Heirisson Prong, before we again found ourselves in the Inlet. Plenty of action followed, including foraging dolphins (and cormorants), a male alliance moving in on some females and calves, and the satisfaction of lengthy focal follows with cameras, hydrophone array and the helikite deployed.

4 Dolphin breakfast5 Corm breakfast

4. Not cat and mouse, but dolphin and fish; 5. A cormorant tastes success too.

 

8 Five for fighting

6. Five for fighting

 

6 Team in action7 Phileas Fog

7. The team at work (Helen Hiley, Sonja Wild and Dr. Stephanie King), not fishing but ballooning; 8. Our trusty helikite/balloon (“Phileas Fogg”) with GoPro attached.

 

The last of our four data days involved more Shark Bay magic: dolphins, turtles, dugongs, cormorants, pelicans, a couple of hammerhead sharks… having now been off the water due to another five days of wind though… well, tomorrow is a new day.

9 When allies approach10 Floppy and Hartog

9. The stuff that prompts action stations when we’re on a follow – the approach of potential allies; 10. Said allies travel south with Dirk Hartog Island as the backdrop.

 

Stay tuned for more updates!

Dec 2015 – The Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance at the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco

The Dolphin Innovation Project and Dolphin Alliance Project were well represented at the recent biennial conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy held in beautiful San Francisco, California. Richard gave a presentation on yet another fascinating finding from the long-running research into male alliances, and special congrats go to PhD students Whitney and Sonja, who gave their first international conference presentations. Stephanie’s earlier research on signature whistles in dolphins also got covered in Professor Peter Tyack’s plenary talk.

Following are the presentation titles and authors (Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance members in bold and those who presented underlined). As well as these four(*) presentations specifically by members of the SBDRA, we contributed to numerous other posters, speed talks and full presentations by our friends, colleagues and associates at other labs/research groups:

 

*1. “Consortship rate and alliance structure vary with habitat in a large bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops cf. aduncus) social network.” Talk by Richard Connor, William Cioffi, Srdan Randic, Jana Watson-Capps, Simon Allen, William Sherwin and Michael Krützen

*2. “Social complexity among bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus): Dynamic third-order relationships and processes of mediation.” Talk by Whitney Friedman, Richard Connor, Michael Krützen and Edwin Hutchins

*3. “Female dolphins who are heterozygous for MHC do not produce more offspring, but their offspring are more viable.” Talk by Oliver Manlik, Janet Mann, Michael Krützen, Anna M Kopps, Holly C Smith, Kate R Sprogis, Lars Bejder; Simon Allen, Richard C Connor, William B Sherwin.

*4. “Shelling out for dinner: Evidence for horizontal social transmission of a remarkable foraging strategy in a wild dolphin population.” Poster by Sonja Wild, William JE Hoppitt, Simon J Allen and Michael Krützen

 

5. “Estimating the proportion of unmarked individuals in delphinid populations”. Poster by Krista Nicholson, Michael Krützen, Simon J Allen and Kenneth H Pollock

6. “Sexual dimorphism and geographic variation in dorsal fin features of Australian humpback dolphins.” Poster by Alexander M Brown, Lars Bejder, Guido J Parra, Daniele Cagnazzi, Tim Hunt, Jennifer L Smith and Simon J Allen

7. “Bite me: Inferring predation risk from the prevalence of shark bites among three tropical inshore dolphin species in north-western Australia.” Poster by Felix Smith, Simon J Allen, Lars Bejder and Alexander M Brown

8. “Australian humpback dolphins (Sousa sahulensis) of the North West Cape, Western Australia: An important habitat toward the south western limit of their range” Speed talk by Tim Hunt, Lars Bejder, Simon J Allen and Guido J Parra

9. “Introducing the Australian humpback dolphin (Sousa sahulensis): Biology and status of the World’s ‘newest’ dolphin species.” Poster by Thomas A Jefferson, Guido J Parra, Simon J Allen, Isabel Beasley, Alex Brown, Daniele Cagnazzi, Tim Hunt and Carol Palmer

We look forward to presenting more of our research and catching up with friends and colleagues in Halifax for the 2017 conference.

 

Oct 2015 – Done, but not forgotten… summary of the Dolphin Innovation Project’s (Useless Loop) field season

The four-month field season out of Useless Loop in 2015 is (relatively speaking) ancient history… but it won’t be forgotten: hundreds of surveys were completed, thousands of photos and videos collected, association data on shellers and spongers collected, and lots of new samples obtained. It’s all in the (data)bank!

Now in the midst of data analysis, we happily remember our days in the field… the group of more than 30 males (several 2nd-order / nested alliances) competing for a female, LEI the dolphin carrying a huge sponge that nearly covered her eyes, the shovelnose ray nearly as large as our beloved little boat, seeing Oakley the female dolphin getting larger and larger and then, finally (!), with her 3-day old calf, and, of-course, living and working in one of the world’s most remote and fascinating places.

We are excited to gain further insights into the complex cooperative and foraging behaviours of Shark Bay’s bottlenose dolphins from the data collected during this and previous seasons… but, at the same time, we can’t wait to go back to the Bay in 2016!

Team West (Livia Gerber, Sonja Wild, Manuela Bizzozzero and Felix Smith)

 

1 copy

17 Jun 2015 – The 2015 field season kicks off in Shark Bay!

sponge

The 2015 field season, with researchers Sam Wittwer and Teresa Borcuch on the Monkey Mia side (Dolphin Alliance Project) and Livia Gerber and Sonja Wild on the Useless Loop side (Dolphin Innovation Project), has been successfully kicked off.

Both teams (including PhD students, Masters students and volunteers from four different countries) will stay in the field until mid-October, collecting photo-identification, behavioural and genetic data. They’ll see oh-so-many dolphins, fascinating foraging and complex cooperation and competition… not to mention flying fish, sharks, rays, dugongs, turtles, birds, sea snakes, sun rises, sunsets and so on.

Interested in joining as a volunteer in future years? If so, please contact Michael, Richard or Simon.

Apr 2014 – Another publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

WSBDolphin Fajita with sponge 2

We are very pleased to announce the publication of “Cultural transmission of tool use by Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) provides access to a novel foraging niche” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Authors: Michael Krützen, Sina Kreicker, Colin D. MacLeod, Jennifer Learmonth, Anna M. Kopps, Pamela Walsham, and Simon J. Allen

Abstract: Culturally transmitted tool use has important ecological and evolutionary consequences and has been proposed as a significant driver of human evolution. Such evidence is still scarce in other animals. In cetaceans, tool use has been inferred using indirect evidence in one population of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.), where particular dolphins (‘spongers’) use marine sponges during foraging. To date, evidence of whether this foraging tactic actually provides access to novel food items is lacking. We used fatty acid (FA) signature analysis to identify dietary differences between spongers and non-spongers, analysing data from 11 spongers and 27 non-spongers from two different study sites. Both univariate and multivariate analyses revealed significant differences in FA profiles between spongers and non-spongers between and within study sites. Moreover, FA profiles differed significantly between spongers and non-spongers foraging within the same deep channel habitat, whereas the profiles of non-spongers from deep channel and shallow habitats at this site could not be distinguished. Our results indicate that sponge use by bottlenose dolphins is linked to significant differences in diet. It appears that cultural transmission of tool use in dolphins, as in humans, allows the exploitation of an otherwise unused niche.

Krützen M, Kreicker S, MacLeod CD, Learmonth J, Kopps AM, Walsham P, Allen SJ. 2014 Cultural transmission of tool use by Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) provides access to a novel foraging niche. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20140374. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.0374

Feb 2014 – New publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

WSBDolphin Liesa with#25305662

We are pleased to announce the publication of the new paper “Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specialisations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Authors: Anna M. Kopps, Corinne Y. Ackermann, William B. Sherwin, Simon J. Allen, Lars Bejder and Michael Krützen

Abstract: Socially learned behaviours leading to genetic population structure have rarely been described outside humans. Here, we provide evidence of fine-scale genetic structure that has probably arisen based on socially transmitted behaviours in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in western Shark Bay, Western Australia. We argue that vertical social transmission in different habitats has led to significant geographical genetic structure of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes. Dolphins with mtDNA haplotypes E or F are found predominantly in deep (more than 10 m) channel habitat, while dolphins with a third haplotype (H) are found predominantly in shallow habitat (less than 10 m), indicating a strong haplotype–habitat correlation. Some dolphins in the deep habitat engage in a foraging strategy using tools. These ‘sponging’ dolphins are members of one matriline, carrying haplotype E. This pattern is consistent with what had been demonstrated previously at another research site in Shark Bay, where vertical social transmission of sponging had been shown using multiple lines of evidence. Using an individual-based model, we found support that in western Shark Bay, socially transmitted specialisations may have led to the observed genetic structure. The reported genetic structure appears to present an example of cultural hitchhiking of mtDNA haplotypes on socially transmitted foraging strategies, suggesting that, as in humans, genetic structure can be shaped through cultural transmission.

Kopps AM, Ackermann CY, Sherwin WB, Allen SJ, Bejder L, Krützen M. 2014 Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specialisations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20133245. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.3245