We keep track of the dolphins of Sarasota Bay through photographic identification (photo-ID) surveys conducted on 10 boat-days each month. One of the primary goals of our monitoring is to track additions, losses, and condition of the resident Sarasota Bay dolphin community members. Twelve births were recorded in 2016, comparable to 2015. Scooter’s fourth calf died shortly after birth, but the other 11 new calves appear to be doing well. One surprising survivor is the 2016 second calf of F165, who survived shark bites it received when only days old (see Wilkinson, p.25)!
Our oldest dolphin, Nicklo, appears to still be doing well at 66 years young. Sadly, two 2015 calves are missing and presumed dead, and we appear to have lost two of the oldest members of our community since our last update, including female Blacktip Doubledip (62 yo) and male RT-3 (52 yo). RT-3 was our oldest known male, and one of the first dolphins ever identified in Sarasota Bay, initially tagged in October 1970.
Our long-term, monthly photo-ID surveys are the core effort of our program, supporting all other projects. More than 47,900 dolphin group sightings since 1970 have yielded more than 142,900 identifications of more than 5,500 individually distinctive dolphins. In support of these identifications, more than 690,000 dolphin photographs are currently archived by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. Data from monthly monitoring surveys and all of our photo-ID efforts are archived in a relational Access database (FinBase) designed specifically for bottlenose dolphin photo-ID data and images. Work has begun to integrate this database with our focal animal behavioral follow database, which contains 2,507 follows on 194 individual dolphins from 23 projects during 1989-2016. This database now also includes current and historic opportunistic respiration data taken on potentially compromised individuals. We will begin integrating our dolphin health database in the near future as well. Many thanks to NOAA’s Jeff Adams for his continued support as our database guru!
We have been able to continue our year-round, monthly monitoring of the Sarasota bottlenose dolphin community thanks largely to support from the Batchelor Foundation, as well as the continued dedication of our core local volunteers and undergraduate interns. Thanks to these efforts, this community remains one of the most thoroughly studied free-ranging dolphin populations in the world.
This article appeared on page 18 of the 2017 SDRP Annual Report, Nicks n Notches.