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UNF research permit extended for local dolphin study

UNF student and researcher reviewing data on a research boatUNF’s Dolphin Research Program permit to study Jacksonville’s urban dolphins has been renewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for an additional five years.

The research will continue a 10-year photo-identification study of bottlenose dolphins, focusing on biology, ecology, behavior, social structure and health. This permit authorizes vessel-based research surveys to include close approach, photo-identification, behavioral observations, videography, passive acoustic recording, and focal follows of bottlenose dolphins within estuarine waters of Northeast Florida.

The University of North Florida’s Dolphin Research Program provides critical information on the population of bottlenose dolphins inhabiting Jacksonville’s estuarine waters. Over the past ten years, Dr. Quincy Gibson, associate professor of biology, and her team have identified and conducted studies on the behavioral ecology of over 500 individual dolphins in the St. Johns River, approximately half of which are year-round residents.

The UNF research team has developed a long-term photographic catalog and sighting history database of individual dolphins. The data has enabled the team to identify critical habitat areas, determine site fidelity and seasonal movement patterns, and calculate life-history parameters, particularly those related to reproductive success, as these are important indicators of the health and sustainability of the population.

The program routinely provides summaries of findings directly to management agencies as these data are critical for assessing the potential impact of anthropogenic disturbance on this dolphin community. As founding members of the Northeast Florida Dolphin Research Consortium, the UNF dolphin program works collaboratively with eight other research groups to determine the population abundance of estuarine bottlenose dolphins throughout the region.