We seek to understand why dolphins have such large brains and high intelligence, a mystery that has puzzled and fascinated scientists for decades. While tens of millions of dollars have been spent searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, relatively little effort has been directed toward understanding the greatest non-human mind on earth.
As readers of Dolphin Politics in Shark Bay: A Journey of Discovery know, the history of our project has been one of continuous discovery. Some new discoveries were made as we expanded our study area up and down the east side of Peron Peninsula. We discovered the amazing beaching behavior when we first explored the top of Peron and Kerplunking when we ventured out east.
Just over 10 years years ago two members of our team, Dr. Michael Krützen and Dr. Simon Allen, had an opportunity to start a dolphin research project on the other side of the bay, in the Western Gulf. Would they find opportunities to learn new things about the Shark Bay dolphins that 25 years of effort in the east had not revealed? The answer was a resounding 'yes'!
They discovered an incredible abundance of sponge-carrying dolphins "out west;" so many that they were able to demonstrate that sponging dolphins actually feed on different fish than other non-spongers that live in the same area. Another behavior that had puzzled us in the east was the rarely observed phenomenon of dolphins surfacing with large conch shells on their snouts. What on earth was that about? Well, it turned out that such 'shelling' was commonplace in the west, leading the discovery that the dolphins were shaking a hiding fish out of the shell! Having such success doing research on dolphin feeding innovations led to the western site being dubbed the "Dolphin Innovation Project" so we playfully refer to our joint progams as "Dip-Dap."
As we share researchers, methods and discoveries, we decided to share our presentation to the public in a joint "Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance" website. Visit http://www.sharkbaydolphins.org to see a comprehensive presentation of our personel, publications and projects.
Dolphin Politics in Shark Bay: A Journey of Discovery reveals the extraordinary success we have had learning about the remarkable dolphin society in Shark Bay, Western Australia. The future promises to be even more extraordinary. Why?
Shark Bay. The habitat in Shark Bay varies remarkably from area to area so we find dolphins doing different things in different places. We do not for a moment imagine that we have discovered all of the dolphin feeding innovations and complexities of dolphin politics in Shark Bay. What will we discover as we expand into new areas of the bay? What incredible new feeding innovations will we find? What new revelations about dolphin politics? Would it not be incredible to find a chain of alliances linking the east and west? Are there larger alliances out there?
Technology. We started out using film cameras, poor resolution video and single hydrophones that could not tell which dolphin was making which sound. We had no way to tell who was related to who or which males sired infants. Now we have hydrophone arrays that can tell us which dolphins are "talking," drones that allow us to observe interactions in much more detail than in past decades, new and constantly evolving genetic techniques that allow much more precise estimates of relatedness, and incredible new ROVs and echo sounders that will allow us to map dolphin habitat and examine the distribution of their food (and predators!).
History. The longer you have watched dolphins the more valuable each observation becomes. That is because you can interpret each observation in an increasingly rich historical context. The new alliances we are watching now, such as the Hooligans and the Alley Cats, include males we have known since infancy. We know their mothers, their "childhood" friends; we know their lives.
Our team. We have assembled a group of team leaders with an extraordinary level of talent and experience in behavior, genetics, population biology, ecology and communication. In addition to Dr. Connor, our core team includes
Dr. Michael Krützen, Professor at the University of Zurich. https://www.aim.uzh.ch/de/Members/profofinstitute/michaelkruetzen.html
Dr. Stephanie King, University of Western Australia. http://www.web.uwa.edu.au/people/stephanie.king
Dr. Simon Allen, University of Western Australia http://www.web.uwa.edu.au/person/simon.allen
Dr. Whitney Friedman, NOAA, UC Santa Cruz https://www.linkedin.com/in/whitneyfriedman/
Together with Masters students, Ph.D. students, Post-doctoral fellows and collaborators at other universities, we are poised for a future of exciting scientific discovery: see The Dolphin Decade