FY 2010 expenditures: $1,387,920
FY 2011 budget: $1,415,092
Perhaps the most beloved of all marine species, dolphins have a relatively long lifespan and a top spot in the food chain, which make them ideal subjects for study of human inputs to coastal ecosystems. Humans and dolphins share food sources and are exposed to many of the same environmental elements and diseases, and so this research can have implications for our well-being.
As enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida, funds from the Protect Wild Dolphins Specialty License Plate can be used to:
- Collect,analyze, and archive scientific data regarding the wild dolphin population in Florida waters
- Provide care and assistance to stranded wild dolphins
- Distribute information to the scientific community, federal, state, and local government agencies, educational institutions, and the public for the purpose of protecting and preserving wild dolphins.
- Individually identify wild dolphins through a photographic identification program.
- Advance the research technology associated with tracking and categorizing wild dolphins.
- Protect Wild Dolphins license plate revenue enables the conservation activities of the Harbor Branch-FAU Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program (MMRC).
The Health and Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) team performs physical examinations and collects biological samples from dolphins for analysis. Twenty-seven Indian River Lagoon dolphins were examined in 2010, and since 2003, approximately 150 have been sampled from the IRL and near Charleston, SC, yielding more than 40 published research papers. HERA and dolphin stranding data are used to study the effects of environmental contaminants such as mercury and the spread of infectious diseases. HBOI-FAU researchers including Steve McCulloch, Dr. Juli Goldstein, and Adam Schaefer collaborate with subcontractors Dr. Greg Bossart (Georgia Aquarium) and Dr. John Reif (Colorado State University).
As a member of the NOAA Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, MMRC maintains 24/7 response readiness for dolphin rescue incidents such as beachings and fishing gear entanglements. Incident response includes veterinary assessment to determine if the animal can be released, requires treatment, or must be euthanized. The MMRC necropsy laboratory is used to perform pathological examinations to better understand illness. On January 1, 2011, for the first time since being severely damaged by hurricanes in 2004, the HBOI-FAU Marine Mammal Critical Care Center became available to accept marine mammals in need of rehabilitative care. HBOI-FAU researchers include Steve McCulloch and Dr. Juli Goldstein.
Context for the data collected by MMRC is constructed via assessments of social organization, movement patterns, feeding behaviors, and genetics of populations. Photographic identification and tracking studies provide a foundation for many of these efforts, which collectively yield a more comprehensive understanding of wild dolphins and the challenges facing them. HBOI-FAU researchers include Dr. Greg O’Corry-Crowe and Marilyn Mazzoil.