Our program takes an interdisciplinary approach that integrates investigation of the endocrine response of an organism to changes in nutrition at four levels of organization: (1) molecular and cellular regulation of growth; (2) tissue specific growth response; (3) individual organism growth, development, and survival; and (4) population health and survival. One goal is to establish a long-term photo-identification and behavioral monitoring program for dolphins in the Jacksonville area. Dolphins in the St Johns River and along our coast are impacted by everything people do in our neighborhoods and on the water. The Dolphin Research Program will provide new data on the health and behavior of these intelligent mammals, giving state and federal agencies the information they need to help keep them safe. With this knowledge, the industries that use the river and the wild dolphins will be able coexist for many generations on the First Coast.
Research with the UNF Marine Mammal Research Program is accomplished through collaborations with domestic and international scientists across the United States, Russia, and Canada including collaborators at Northeast Florida Dolphin Research Consortium, Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, The Marine Mammal Center, National Marine Mammal Laboratory, and the Vancouver Aquarium.
St. John's River, Jacksonville, FL.
The Marine Mammal Research Team
attended the 2014 Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal
Symposium (SEAMAMMS) at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, March 28-30th. Research students from Dr. Avery and Dr. Gibson’s labs
represented UNF well with 6 scientific presentations!
The estuarine waters of the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, FL may provide critical habitat for Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). However, this population of estuarine dolphins has not yet been well studied. This lack of information is concerning; given the urban location of this population the risk of anthropogenic (human) disturbance is high. In September 2010, an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) was declared for Jacksonville dolphins in response to an unprecedented number of dolphin strandings/deaths in the St. John's River. Unfortunately, the investigation into potential causes for these strandings was inconclusive due to limited existing knowledge of this population. Our project strives to fill this knowledge gap through a systematic study of the distribution, abundance and behavior of the dolphins that inhabit the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida.
Through weekly vessel-based photo-identification and behavioral surveys, our research team has identified over 300 individual dolphins in the St. John’s River. Of these individuals, 27 dolphins have been re-sighted on ten or more survey days, with some individuals re-sighted as often as 14 survey days. Dolphins are consistently sighted throughout our survey route, Mayport Inlet to Hart Bridge, approximately 25 miles up-river and our preliminary data suggest that some individuals prefer particular portions of the river. However, continued data collection is necessary to determine seasonal patterns of habitat use and if the dolphins in the St. John’s River are year-round residents or if their home ranges extend beyond the river. Such information is critical for assessing the potential impact of anthropogenic disturbances on this population.
Our main objective is to continue developing a local photographic catalog and sighting history database of individual dolphins that can be utilized to address numerous research questions. These data will enable us to 1) identify critical habitat areas used for resting, mating/calving and foraging, 2) determine site fidelity and seasonal movement patterns, and 3) calculate life history parameters, particularly those related to reproductive success (calving rates, calf survival, and weaning age), as these are important indicators of the health and sustainability of the population. As founding members of the Northeast Florida Dolphin Research Consortium, we are also working collaboratively with eight other research groups to determine the population abundance of bottlenose dolphins throughout the northeast Florida region (Fernandina Beach to Ponce Inlet). Participation in this large-scale effort will clarify the larger ranging patterns of the St. John’s River dolphins, and thereby their cumulative exposure to anthropogenic disturbance.
Once we have achieved a basic understanding of the dolphins in the river (i.e., their seasonal abundance, distribution, and the sex of regularly sighted individuals), we intend to expand the behavioral component of our project by investigating social structure (association patterns) and complexity (e.g. male alliances), maternal care strategies, and calf development.
FWCC - Report Injured Animals - 1-888-404-FWCC (3922)
Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration
Alaska SeaLife Center
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
The Marine Mammal Center
National Marine Mammal Laboratory
The Vancouver Aquarium
Dr. Avery is collaborating in a research project at the McMurdo Station Antarctica for six weeks (November -December 2013) .
This photo is the first team photo taken as soon as the team landed on the ice runway in Antarctica. Pictured from left to right are: Dr. Rachel Berngartt, Amy
Kirkham, Dr. Jennifer Burns, Michelle Shero, Linnea Pearson, and Dr. Julie
In the background is the C-17
that transported us from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station
Antarctica. Dr. Burns, Professor of
Biology at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) has been conducting
research in the Antarctic for more than 10 seasons. She is the Principal
investigator and team leader for this project designated by the National
Science Foundation as B-292-M. This is the third season on the ice for Dr.
Berngartt, our veterinarian. Michelle
and Linnea are PhD students at UAA, and both are seasoned veterans of Antarctic
research with more than four seasons each.
Amy, UAA MS student, and Dr. Avery, Assistant Professor of Biology at
University of North Florida, are both first timers on the ice. They will have several days of training and
preparation ahead before they begin working with animals.
Click on this link to view more pictures from
Every gift is important to our research. Below are some suggestions of ways you can become involved in the Marine Mammal Research Program.
Basic Adoption - $25.00Name Your Adopted Dolphin - $75.00(You will receive an adoption card with a photo of your adopted dolphin and information about him/her.)
Sponsor a Day of Research:
Half Day of Research - $100.00Full Day of Research - $200.00(You will receive a summary of the research and dolphin activity conducted on your sponsored day.)
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