UNF Marine Mammal Research Program

Whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and manatees are animals that continue to be at the forefront of public concern with regards to conservation and protection.  Much loved for their gentle demeanors and playful antics, marine mammals are challenging study subjects for biologists.  In 2006, The University of North Florida (UNF), established the Coastal Biology Flagship Program to study life along our First Coast. Europeans arrived here centuries ago, but much remains to be discovered about the natural world in our own backyard. Many fishes, marine mammals, and birds live or migrate through the First Coast every year, interacting with an ever growing human population. Understanding interactions between people and nature is critical. Researchers at UNF compare aspects of growth physiology to evaluate how species cope with their environment and increase their chances for survival.  Studies on the behaviors of mothers and calves also helps to provide the researchers a better understanding of their life history strategies.  


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.


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