I have been very lucky to participate once again in the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, but this time working on my senior thesis, which will allow me to get my degree when I go back to Argentina.
I’ve always been attracted to how a simple algal cell could cause such a big change in the ecosystem. This is one of the reasons that I have focused my research on investigating how severe red tide blooms (caused by the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis) affect the activity patterns and group size of the local dolphin community.
In order to study this, I used the data from regular photo-identification surveys conducted for the SDRP during the 2000-2009 period in Sarasota Bay.
After the analysis I found that the activity patterns of Sarasota dolphins show changes during severe red tide events that mirror recent findings which focused on juvenile dolphins during a shorter time period.
More specifically, foraging activity decreased, which might be related to changes in fish abundance and community structure.
I also noticed an increase in social activity and group size during the red tide years, perhaps related to a shift in their diet which maybe requires different foraging strategies.
Finally, I observed that the dolphins’ interaction with boats became higher in those years with K. brevis blooms. This suggests that some animals may turn to anglers and boaters as a potential source of food or that they may bow or wake ride to save energy.
In conclusion, these results indicate that several red tide events have induced changes in the activity patterns of bottlenose dolphins over that time, showing that this species can change their habitual routine to adapt to the new conditions that K. brevis induces.
I’m very grateful for all the help I have received from my advisor Randall Wells and the SDRP’s dedicated staff. Without their support my thesis wouldn’t be possible.
Working with the SDRP has been a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from the best, and I’m certain that all the knowledge and skills that I have acquired are going to be very helpful in this magical career for which I’m just beginning.