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Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch seeks dolphin spotters for new project

'Dolphin Spotter' program encourages participants to submit observations, photos
Bottlenose dolphin
Posted at 11:53 AM, Feb 10, 2022

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce is asking for the public's help with their new "Dolphin Spotter" project.

Researchers are collecting information on wild dolphin populations and encourage participants from across Florida to submit observations and photos of dolphins.

Submissions will be added to a database to support research efforts on dolphins living in the Indian River Lagoon.

The institute said the project will help them capture areas that traditional surveys don't reach.

“With inviting citizens to submit their data, we can get pictures from anywhere,” said Gabby Barbarite, Director of Outreach and Engagement.

Among the variables that participants will be asked to record include the date, time, location, dolphin behavior, water quality and weather conditions, and photos.

Scientists will particularly be looking for photos of fins to help them identify dolphins.

“Just like we all have fingerprints that can be used to identify us, dolphins have different nicks and notches and scrapes on their dorsal fin that can be used to identify them,” Barbarite said.

That can help them track things like where dolphins are spending their time, what impacts their movement, and even how pods interact.

“We can also start to get information on behaviors. Are they feeding? Do they have a calf with them? It’s really a lot of great information that we can add to our database.”

Graduate Research Assistant Samantha McGuire will be uploading the public’s pictures to an interactive map.

“So, within a few days, maybe a week, you can go onto the map, click the point, and actually see where these dolphins are being spotted,” McGuire said.

Barbarite said the more we learn about the beloved animals, the more we can learn about the entire ecosystem.

“They’re also a great sentinel for the health of our ecosystems and for human health. So, it’s really important we understand these populations and some of the issues affecting them and then also do our best to try to conserve them for years to come,” Barbarite said.

Click here to learn more about the "Dolphin Spotter" program.