Dolphins viewed as they see themselves

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Dolphins viewed as they see themselves

Observing natural marine-life behaviour uninhibited by the presence of humans can be a challenge for scientists, but an international research team says that by attaching non-invasive video cameras to dusky dolphins it has captured some nine hours' footage of rarely seen activities.

Mother-calf interaction, playing with kelp and flipper-rubbing were among the intimate social behaviours observed and analysed by marine biologists from the Universities of Sydney and Alaska Southeast.

The custom-made video cameras, each with a six-hour battery life, were loaded with memory boards, VHF and satellite transmitters and time-depth recorders. They were attached to eight wild dusky dolphins off the coast of New Zealand with the aid of long poles and suction cups.

“One challenge of doing this research on small and fast animals like dusky dolphins is that there is limited surface area on the dolphin’s body for tag attachment, so there’s only a small window of time to actually deploy the tag as the dolphin swims past,” said Dr Peter Jones from the University of Sydney.

The footage obtained is claimed to offer new insights into wild dolphins’ prey and habitats. “For the first time, these cameras have given us the opportunity to see what dolphins do on their own terms,” said Dr Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska of the University of Sydney.

“There were no wildlife crews, no invasive underwater housings – and the dolphins remained largely unaffected by our cameras.”

Dolphin specialist Heidi Pearson of the University of Alaska Southeast said that the research had great potential for protecting endangered species.

“With these video cameras, we can ‘see’ from the animals’ perspective and begin to understand the challenges they face as they move throughout their habitat,” she said.

“For example, in marine areas subjected to high degrees of human disturbance such as shipping or coastal development, the ability to collect data from the animal’s perspective will be critical in understanding how and to what extent these stressors affect an animal’s ability to feed, mate, and raise young.”

The researchers hope to develop the videocams further, for use with other cetacean species and sharks. Examples of the type of footage obtained can be seen here

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