The 10,000 Island Dolphin Project
Naples, Marco Island & the Everglades are known as Florida’s Paradise Coast. In 2014, the destination facing the Gulf of Mexico, was assigned theTripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Islands Award, as being the Top Island in the US of A – and the fourth on the prime list worldwide. Local dedication to a special mission may well have influenced the jury’s decision.
The 10,000 Island Dolphin Project is a long term study documenting the abundance, distribution, movement and association patterns of bottlenose dolphins in coastal areas of southwestern Florida. The effort is entirely funded by the general public who engage themselves in the survey work as paying “citizen scientists” on daily excursions. As one of the primary objectives of this interactive enterprise is to provide the public with the findings gleaned during these trips, a profitable eco-tour was created. It is as much an educational fun attraction for laymen, as it renders a valuable contribution to scientific research. The goal is to bridge the gap between the highly specialized world of science and the healthy curiosity of amateurs. The hybrid nature of this operation enables the team to carry out assignments on an almost daily basis over a period of many years. No other study on marine mammals has reached a level of similar precision and reliability yet.
A dolphin’s dorsal fin is as unique as a fingerprint.
But not only is the shape and size different: Nicks, bite marks or significant injuries render it truly unique.
A „social“ incentive for small MICE groups?
Each day, the Dolphin Explorer, a 38 foot catamaran powered by two 250 HP engines, departs from the Marco River Marina. Weather and wherewithal, as described above, permitting. On board are up to 24 passengers, a naturalist, the captain and the frequent volunteer or intern. For about three hours, everyone keeps a keen eye on the rippled water surface to be the first ones to detect the gorgeous mammals, who always seem in an enviably frolicsome mood. As soon as dolphins are spotted, the captain skillfully maneuvers the catamaran for close-up photographs of the distinctive dorsal fins – in order to provide additional population data for further research. A small printer on board offers the luxury of immediate printing of photos. Now the most exciting moment for expectant passengers arrives: armed with a catalogue of dolphins documented prior, they may be able to identify the animals they had just encountered! Final confirmation, though, follows – after minute scrutiny ashore – at the end of each trip. All other information is immediately entered on board directly to the database by means of a tablet PC.
At present, the database represents approximately 966 field surveys (or 2200 survey hours) in which 3025 encounters with dolphins were recorded. 250 individual mammals have been catalogued. The ultimate range of the project will cover fifty coastal miles of southwest Florida, from Bonita Beach to Everglades City.
Founder & Director of this project is Chris Desmond. He supervises all aspects of the program while working on-board with the survey teams. http://dolphinstudy.com
All images are courtesy and copyright of http://www.paradisecoast.com