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Brookfield Zoo Share Stories on Dolphin Research

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: January 17, 2021 9:58 pm

dolphins chicago zoological society

Resident Sarasota Bay dolphins leap in a boat wake.

Photo Credit: Chicago Zoological Society/Sarasota Dolphin Research Program—photos taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permit No. 20455

The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) will share their work on the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) as part of a virtual lecture on January 26th. The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) is the longest-running study of a wild dolphin population.

Begun in October 1970 with the the tagging of two male bottlenose dolphins near Sarasota, Florida the program was the first to document the year-round residency of bottlenose dolphins in coastal waters.

This pioneering discovery has been followed by many other groundbreaking discoveries in the following 50 years and grown to be a model for other dolphin studies. The Sarasota population now acts as a reference population allowing comparative studies of other at-risk dolphin populations.

More stories from the study will be shared as part of a virtual lecture, “The Dolphins of Sarasota Bay—Lessons from 50 Years of Study,” on January 26, at 7:00 p.m. CT featuring Randy Wells, Ph.D., director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.

This is the second virtual lecture being presented by the Chicago Zoological Society about Brookfield Zoo's rich history, incredible animals, and innovative conservation programs. To learn more and register, visit CZS.org/LectureSeries.

dolphins chicago zoological society

Bottlenose dolphins

Photo Credit: Chicago Zoological Society/Sarasota Dolphin Research Program—photos taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permit No. 20455

The SDRP, started by Dr. Blair Irvine, is today led by Dr. Wells, a dolphin conservation biologist widely respected for his expertise, who is often consulted by U.S. and foreign governmental and nongovernmental officials about all aspects of dolphin biology and conservation. Dr. Wells was a high school student working as an assistant to Dr. Irvine on the early dolphin-tagging initiative.

 

“What has developed over the decades is certainly beyond anything we could have imagined when we first started tagging dolphins,” Wells said. “Blair and I are humbled by the fact that the program is now recognized by many around the world as a pioneering model for the study and conservation of dolphin populations.”

The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program has been operated by the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) since 1989 and, since 1992, has been based at Mote Marine Laboratory, within the home range of Sarasota Bay dolphins.

 

“The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is a flagship program of the Chicago Zoological Society,” said Dr. Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Society. “We are extremely proud of our 30 years of involvement with this program, as it exemplifies our mission to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature.”

dolphins chicago zoological society

Sarasota Dolphin Research Program staff rescue a young bottlenose dolphin entangled in fishing line.

Photo Credit: Chicago Zoological Society/Sarasota Dolphin Research Program—photos taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permit No. 20455

The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) have operated the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program since 1989 and since 1992 it has been based out of the Mote Marine Labratory.

“The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is a flagship program of the Chicago Zoological Society,” said Dr. Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Society. “We are extremely proud of our 30 years of involvement with this program, as it exemplifies our mission to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature.”

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During the early 1970s the first discovery of this research program was that the dolphins were long-term residents of Sarasota Bay and this has allowed them to study individuals throughout their lives. This has allowed them to gain new understandings of the dolphins biology, ecology, social structure, and health—and an overall richer understanding of dolphins and the challenges, big and small, that the animals face in their day-to-day lives, providing guidance on how we can help them.

“We found that dolphin communities in localized areas are exposed every day to multiple, concurrent threats from both natural and man-made sources,” Wells said. “Cumulatively, these can have a great impact on the future of individuals and populations. Today, much of our research is focused on characterizing and attempting to mitigate these local threats through research, outreach, education, and even direct intervention.”

The program team also lend their expertise to efforts to rescue individual dolphins impacted by humans through entanglement or boat strikes. They have assisted on the rescues of 22 dolphins.

“Over the past 50 years, our research of tracking individual animals has shown that a single female can produce 11 calves or more during her reproductive years,” Wells said. “Helping dolphins survive to produce future calves is crucial for long-term dolphin communities to maintain long-established social structures and survive and thrive into the future. Every individual matters.”

All told, research conducted through the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program has shown that dolphins have wider, more complex and intriguing lives than the grinning animals popularized in movies and on TV. Over the past 50 years, staff has learned that the dolphins have lived in their coastal neighborhoods for many generations. “We need to do what we can to protect the health of our shared backyard to make sure the dolphins can continue to survive and thrive, and so we can continue to enjoy the benefit from our coastal marine ecosystem,” Wells said.

dolphins chicago zoological society

Four resident mother-calf pairs entering Sarasota Bay through Big Pass. The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program was involved in interventions with three of these moms. Without intervention, these moms and their subsequent calves would likely not have been available for the photo.

Photo Credit: Chicago Zoological Society/Sarasota Dolphin Research Program—photos taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permit No. 20455

Learn more about the Chicago Zoological Society on their website – Chicago Zoological Society

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