August of 2016 marked the fourth anniversary of our collaborative effort known as the Gulf of Mexico Dolphin Identification System (GoMDIS). Modeled on the Mid-Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Catalog curated by Kim Urian at Duke University, GoMDIS serves as a standardized and centralized catalog for bottlenose dolphins throughout the Gulf of Mexico. With continued funding assistance through NOAA and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute/Florida Atlantic University, this repository integrates data submitted from collaborating groups around the Gulf which have location-specific photo-identification catalogs.
There are approximately 3,540 miles of coastline in the Gulf. For reference, this is far more than the greatest horizontal length of the contiguous United States, 2,680 miles. We are fortunate to work with an ever-growing number of collaborators, considering the vast amount of coastline that could be surveyed. These animals are certainly not bound by individual researchers’ survey areas. By joining together and combining our catalogs into a single repository, we can gain better understanding of dolphin movements and have Gulf-wide, standardized and centralized baseline knowledge of the animals in the instance of another oil spill like Deepwater Horizon or another unusual mortality event.
The collaboration has grown significantly over the past four years, from 13 groups representing 23 catalogs to 33 groups representing 48 potential catalogs including Cuba and Mexico. Historical catalogs are being incorporated, which in some cases means re-building catalogs from the 1980s. We were fortunate to have Alex Fields, our NOAA-NGI National Diversity intern, to assist with part of this massive project. We are also incorporating non-photo-ID programs into GoMDIS. This includes rehabilitated/released animals and deceased (but identifiable) animals.
To date, 19 catalogs from the possible 48 have been submitted and processed through GoMDIS. These data are maintained by the Curator in the offline GoMDIS database and are periodically uploaded to an online portal (OBIS-SEAMAP, http://seamap.env.duke.edu/), facilitating data-sharing and providing our colleagues with a secure, fin-matching interface. This interface holds a repository of approximately 13,992 individuals and 23,983 images available to the collaborators on OBIS-SEAMAP. Over 160 matches have been made with many more to come as contributors continue to submit their catalogs. Further investigation will occur on these matches between the collaborating organizations involved by comparing sighting histories. This will allow us to better determine the ranging pattern of these animals, which in turn will help management agencies to better define stock structure and obtain more accurate abundance estimates.
We have several ideas to further enhance the capabilities of our collaborative effort. By incorporating new collaborator user features in OBIS, such as the ability to map sighting histories, especially across animals matched between catalogs, we would be able to paint pictures of individual movements. We are also investigating the possibility of creating a catalog of animals involved in human interactions, to examine potential areas of concern for managers. Additionally, as GoMDIS is not a real-time system, we will propose creating a real-time intermediary system between stranding programs and neighboring photo-ID programs with the goal to identify stranded or deceased animals in a timely manner.
This article appeared on page 18-19 of the 2017 SDRP Annual Report, Nicks n Notches.