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Belize Bottlenose Dolphin Research

Since 1991 we've been studying the unique bottlenose dolphins of Belize's Turneffe Atoll to guide conservation.

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Overview

For more than 20 years, Oceanic Society scientists, volunteers, and partners have been studying bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Belize for the purposes of conservation. We have studied their abundance, distribution, feeding behavior, habitat use, social structure, ranging patterns, and communication, and this information has been used to advocate for and to guide conservation efforts like the declaration of Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve in 2012.

Since the establishment of the Oceanic Society Field Station at Blackbird Caye in Turneffe Atoll in 2001 we have focused our research on the bottlenose dolphin population found at Turneffe Atoll. Prior to our research, relatively little was known about these animals. Over time we have developed an intimate understanding of Turneffe's dolphin population that is helping to protect them here and serving as a model for dolphin research and conservation programs in other parts of the world.

Threats

One of more than 170 dolphins identified through our research. © Eric Ramos

Though once hunted extensively for meat and oil, today bottlenose dolphins are widespread and abundant globally thanks to national and international conservation efforts dating back to the 1960s. Yet dolphins are sensitive to many human activities and their populations are still impacted in some areas by incidental capture in fisheries, directed hunting, habitat degradation, and live-capture for public display, research, and military use.

Fortunately, the dolphin population at Turneffe Atoll appears to be healthy and will further benefit from the establishment of Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve. Habitat disturbance and fisheries bycatch are continuing concerns, but efforts are underway to minimize those threats.

How We Are Helping

Collecting data on bottlenose dolphin behavior. © Eric Ramos

Through our 20+ years of dolphin research in Belize we have identified more than 170 individual dolphins that we continue to monitor on an ongoing basis. Today our dolphin research focuses on the sound production and behavior of groups of bottlenose dolphins in the diverse habitats found throughout Turneffe Atoll. With the assistance of international volunteers, we use boat-based observation, underwater video, and acoustic listening devices to gain a deeper understanding of dolphin behavior.

We also use our research to push for improved dolphin conservation in Belize. Our research helped lead to the establishment of Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve and is heavily cited in the reserve's management plan. We continue to work with relevant authorities and partners in Belize to assure that bottlenose dolphins will be adequately protected in the new reserve.

Your donations to this program are used to fund the costs of research, which include cameras, hydrophones and other monitoring equipment, boat fuel, motors and maintenance, and the expenses associated with housing researchers at our field station. Every dollar makes a difference!

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