The Eckerd College Dolphin Project (ECDP) began in 1993 under Dr. John Reynolds. From its start it has served two purposes: one to train undergraduate students in field and lab techniques to study wild dolphins and two to collect and analyze biological data relating to the dolphins in the Boca Ciega Bay area (see Figure 1) just to the north of Sarasota Bay. ECDP has been very successful in both of its objectives. Over 100 undergraduate students, including CZS-DRCI staff members Jason Allen and Aaron Barleycorn, have participated in the project, many of whom have continued to do dolphin research after leaving Eckerd. Additionally we have identified over 700 different dolphins during the 17 years of the project. Some of these dolphins are clearly resident, having been photographed over 100 times, however many dolphins have been photographed only once or twice.
To assist in the process of matching the thousands of photographs taken each year, faculty and students at Eckerd College have developed a computer assisted matching program (DARWIN). This software has been very helpful in matching our photographs, especially as almost all the work on this project is conducted by undergraduate students. The ECDP catalog is routinely compared with CZS Dolphin Research and Conservation Institute’s catalog, and 45% of the dolphins identified by ECDP have also been identified by CZS Dolphin Research and Conservation Institute.
Some of the highlights from this year’s research include: identifying FB68 (“Manatee Man”) the day before he was found stranded with embedded fishing gear on Fort Desoto Beach, observations and acoustic recordings of two highly social groups which were likely mating,
and identifying 181 different dolphins over the summer. Eckerd College’s Natural Sciences Summer Research Program funded the field work this summer.