Bottlenose dolphins are commonly found around Puerto Rico. Population estimates from photographic-identification surveys for the southwest coast of Puerto Rico determined a population of about 314 individuals. Since 2001, no additional population assessment has been done in Puerto Rico. To understand the dynamics of this population, I began my dissertation project, “Genetic structure and diversity of the bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, population off Puerto Rico.” Population genetic analyses provide valuable information regarding population identity, social structure, gene flow and demographic history of any species. Molecular genetic markers are an increasingly important tool in the study of animal behaviors and ecology. DNA analysis of parentage and relatedness allows for testing specific hypotheses relevant to parental care, and dispersal. To determine the extent and interaction of the two ecotypes, we are studying group behavior and distribution in combination with population genetics and fecal metagenomics. These data will be combined with GIS and remote sensing to determine group home range, sex distribution and parental relatedness.
In April 2015, the SDRP invited me to Sarasota for a week-long biopsy darting sampling training session. This training is instrumental for the permit requirements by local and federal agencies for the research on cetaceans. To continue this collaboration, Aaron Barleycorn traveled to Puerto Rico during the second half of October to collect samples off the West Coast. This type of research is the first of its kind in Puerto Rico, and the expertise of the SDRP personnel is crucial for the project and its development.
This article appeared on pages 23-24 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.