Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute
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The Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (BDRI) is a research and educational centre dedicated to the understanding and conservation of cetaceans and the marine environment in which they live. The Institute's BDRI centre was founded by the biologist Bruno Díaz López in Sardinia, Italy in 2005. In 2014, the BDRI opened a new facility in Galicia, Spain.
BDRI concentrates its efforts on research into dolphins because they are predators at the top of their food chain, so their well-being provides an excellent indication of the health of the entire ecosystem on which they, and humans, depend. Whales and dolphins around the world are under threat from marine pollution, over-fishing, getting entangled in nets, whaling and uncontrolled tourism.
The BDRI is intended to contribute to the understanding and conservation of dolphins, expand the public's knowledge and concern for the marine environment, and add to the knowledge base of bottlenose dolphins through publications of collected and analysed field data. Using study techniques that neither harm nor seriously disturb the animals, the BRDI is currently engaged in the conduction of a long-term study about the ecology and behaviour of a bottlenose dolphin population, as well as collecting detailed information about their environment.
The BDRI has educational and research programmes aimed at providing extra support for scientists early in their careers, science students, local students and scientists from developing countries, including training opportunities in the field, grants, and online and field courses.
Significance of BDRI research projects
Cetacean populations are affected by man's use of coastal waters, particularly by fisheries activities and habitat modification. BDRI research projects provide scientific data to assist environmental agencies in managing and conserving marine natural resources and to obtain fundamental knowledge about this behaviourally flexible and cosmopolitan species. Their programs are conducted under a Research Permit issued by the Department of Environment of the Galician Government as part of our cooperation with the national networking for the study of marine mammals (CEMMA). Additional studies by the BDRI have also been conducted in Italy, Spain and Abu Dhabi to date.
Previous and current BDRI research projects
BDRI researchers address a wide range of questions to form a multi-dimensional picture of the marine mammals behaviour and ecology and its relationship to the rest of the planet, including human society. The BDRI research has a multidisciplinary approach where we currently focus on four main research projects:
- Cetacean distribution along Galician coast: Current studies by the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute BDRI research team principally focus on the cetacean species frequenting the inshore waters of the outer Arousa Firth, however, a new area like Galician coastal waters (north-west Spain) offers us to also take on new projects and a more diverse range of issues and species. These waters are characterized by high biodiversity and productive fisheries, supported by nutrient input due to upwelling. Twenty species of cetaceans have been recorded in Galician waters, of which the most abundant appear to be short-beaked common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. Other species present in the area include harbour porpoises, Risso’s dolphins and long-finned pilot whale. Conservation issues for cetaceans in Galician waters include interactions with fisheries, which may be a significant cause of mortality, overfishing, and oil spills. Hence, the information collected will inform conservation plans by identifying coastal areas of high importance to cetaceans. Wild bottlenose dolphins and humans frequenting the same small areas makes boat interaction more or less inevitable. BDRI researchers provided quantified data about bottlenose dolphin diving behaviour in the presence and absence of boats in Galicia. The data reported by BDRI researchers could be used to implement precautionary management proposals that take into account the potential effects of boat presence on dolphins.
- Behavioural ecology of dolphins and impact of human activities on their lives: Much of the research work is based upon repeat observations of individually-recognisable dolphins, providing data for a range of long-term and ongoing studies on the abundance, site fidelity, home range, social structure and behaviour of this population. The study of dolphins social structures defines an important class of ecological relationships between individuals and their nearby conspecifics. Common bottlenose dolphins live in fission–fusion societies within which individuals associate in small groups that change in composition, often on a daily or hourly basis. Fission–fusion societies limit the effect of within-unit competition through unit splits during periods of high competition, and they enhance cooperative effects through unit cohesion when the ecological costs of aggregating are low or benefits of sociality are high. Human activities can influence the distribution of food resources, which may promote the evolution of social organizations as a response to fluctuations in the costs of feeding competition. Therefore, fission–fusion societies present a good opportunity to examine the costs and benefits of association in dolphin populations affected by human use of coastal waters, especially by fisheries activities and habitat modification.
Individual-based studies focusing explicitly the variability of social unit structure in relation to anthropogenic factors are few. In this project, BDRI researchers will study the patterns of association of different populations of bottlenose dolphins (in Italy and Spain) and will describe the way in which their association behaviour is related to the way they respond to food patches created by human activities. BDRI researchers studied interactions between dolphins and gillnets along the north-eastern coast of Sardinia (Italy). Although dolphins benefit from taking fish entangled in gillnets, the association with gillnets is harmful because it exposes dolphins to additional risk. An observed annual estimate of the number of dolphins caught in gillnets was 3.54%. The extent of the estimated by-catch is worrisome in terms of the ability of bottlenose dolphins off Sardinia to sustain such an annual loss. The higher annual numbers of immature dolphins than adults dolphins caught in gillnets was related with a lack of experience together with and the tendency of immatures to play and/or to spend a lot of time scouting.
BDRI's researchers have also examined the effects of aquaculture on marine fauna in general, and more specifically, the impacts of aquaculture on dolphins in different marine fin fish farms off the coast of Sardinia, Italy. One of the objectives of these studies was to determine the variables that influence the presence and abundance of dolphins in the fish farms area.
Marine aquaculture and, in particular intensive fish farming, have shown a large expansion in most Mediterranean countries over the last ten years. To curb predation, many marine fish farms employ control methods which exclude, harass or remove predators. One such method, predator netting, creates a physical barrier that protects farmed fish from attacks by airborne and underwater predators. The incidental capture of marine mammals by commercial fisheries is often a controversial and emotive issue. A potential impact on marine mammals as a result of aquaculture interaction is death or injury through entanglement in gear. BDRI researchers carried out the first attempt in the Mediterranean basin to obtain information on encounter rate, group size and incidental capture of bottlenose dolphins in a marine fish farm. The regular occurrence of some dolphins suggests individual preferences for the fish farm area. The incidental bottlenose dolphin capture observed in large, loose predator nets is cause for concern, as it is questionable whether or not the bottlenose dolphins in the area can sustain incidental capture of this magnitude. The information gained from this study showed the necessity for further regulations to be established, both in the use of predator nets and management of marine fish farms.
Assessing the consequences of fisheries and habitat modification with relatively obvious effects on marine predators can be difficult. BDRI researchers were the first to show how coastal fisheries and aquaculture are not only directly affecting marine predators but could also indirectly affect their social structure and behaviour. BDRI researchers suggest that the main management issues raised by their studies relates to the dolphins' habitat. The feeding opportunities for dolphins that are created by human activities have become part of their "way of life", part of their habitat requirements. When top predators display complex social responses to activities not directed at them, the task of studying all possible effects in the food chain can become even more challenging. Further work should focus on elucidating how human activities induce social and spatial changes in marine top predators.
BDRI researchers observed that the use of pingers reduces dolphin mortality due to bycatch on gillnets. Definite proof that acoustic devices have a long-term effectiveness has not been found. The Dinner Bell and Habituation factors must be taken into consideration to test in future studies.
Bottlenose dolphins living around coastal regions have received much attention due to their increased vulnerability of inhabiting areas where marine traffic is concentrated. Marine traffic has previously been observed to elicit responses in cetacean behaviours, but the cause and effects of these interactions has yet to be fully understood. BDRI's current study area of Aranci Bay, Sardinia, provides a unique insight into an area where the interactions of bottlenose dolphins and vessels remains largely unchecked. Our studies showed that the dolphins were surfacing less regularly in the presence of vessels and this response was further enhanced during vessel approaches. Moreover, by examining the influence of different types of vessel it was evident that the dolphins elicited a stronger response to tourist than fisheries vessels. The behaviour vessels display around the dolphins as well as speed, engine type and distance of approach were all factors that needed to be taken into consideration when analysing the changes observed. Research is contributing to a wider management scheme to ensure that marine traffic is monitored effectively when bottlenose dolphins are present.
- Dolphins communication: Bioacoustics research provides important insights into animal behavior. Dolphins (family: Delphinidae) are an extremely vocal mammalian family and vocal communication plays an important role in mediating social interactions. Most BDRI studies of delphinid vocalizations have concentrated on bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus (in the Mediterranean, Italy, and in the Atlantic Ocean, Spain) and T. aduncus (in the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi, UAE). Until recently, communication behaviour had a limited role in conservation, being restricted to enhancing captive breeding programs or use in species counts. However, knowledge of how individuals within a population communicate can generate information ranging from measures of habitat use, social relevance, geographical variation, cultural transmission, etc., that can be applied to conservation. Marine mammals use sound for activities essential to survival and reproduction. Bottlenose dolphins are extremely vocal mammalian species, and vocal communication plays an important role in mediating social interactions. Amid the abundant literature pertaining to vocalizations of bottlenose dolphins, very little is known about the vocal repertoire of Mediterranean wild bottlenose dolphins. BDRI bioacoustical studies carried out year round from 2005 represent the first attempt to obtain information on the repertoire and production patterns of bottlenose dolphins resident in an area characterized by important interaction with human activities (tourism, aquaculture and coastal fisheries). Many vocal signals were strongly implicated in social and feeding interactions. Although many of these vocalizations have been previously described in the literature, their association with specific behaviours linked with human activities provides additional contextual information about their potential use as communication signals. One of BDRI's most recent projects shows that the number of whistles recorded in a group increased significantly as the number of mother-calf pairs increased, confirming that whistles may be used as contact calls. These studies use benign techniques to demonstrate the great diversity of communication signals emitted and indicate a functional role of these vocalizations during the observed behaviours. Cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) are often faced with the challenge of hearing strange sounds in environments with noise from both natural and anthropogenic sources. BDRI researchers have documented that human-introduced noise induces behavioural reactions in bottlenose dolphins. In addition noise pollution is being considered as a cause of displacement of cetaceans from preferred habitats. Short-term noise pollution may not create significant problems. Repeated or long-term noise pollution, however, can cause stress and debilitation and may be related to dolphin mortality. Related scientific publications:
- Dolphins in the Persian Gulf: At least ten species of cetacean have been identified in the Persian Gulf, but most of these are considered vagrant or seasonal visitor. Only two species of dolphin, the Indo-Pacific humpback (Sousa chinensis) and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) are thought to be common residents of the Gulf. The finless porpoise (Neophocoena phocaenoides) is thought to be an uncommon resident.
The conservation status of these species in Abu-Dhabi waters is totally unknown, largely because of the lack of research on either species. The world conservation status of these species is Data Deficient, that is, there is insufficient information on which to make an assessment. This deficiency hampers conservation and management efforts and our ability to assess the impact of human activities on local populations of this species.
BDRI researchers participate in cooperation with the Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi since 2014, for the first time in Abu Dhabi waters, in a research project in order to obtain accurate data on population estimate, distribution, potential threats and residence patterns of dolphin species observed in coastal waters of Abu-Dhabi (UAE). The final purpose of this project is to inform and improve the design of conservation and management interventions towards these species in Abu-Dhabi waters.
BDRI Environmental policy
As a marine science research team, BDRI researchers have witnessed first hand the effects global warming and climate change have on our planet. Every year new tropical species are catalogued in north Sardinia as having arrived from tropical waters as an effect of global warming, and entire ecosystems are being affected. BDRI researchers are committed to the implementation of proactive measures to help protect and sustain the local and global environment for future generations. The BDRI aims to achieve the objective of improved environmental performance through pollution prevention and continuous improvement. All BDRI members, workers and volunteers are expected to conduct their work in a manner compatible with the BDRI's Responsible Travel policy and objectives.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Shirai, J.A.; Bilbao Prieto, A. & Méndez Fernández, P., 2008. "Diving activity of a solitary wild free ranging bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)". Journal of Marine Biological Association U.K.88(6): 1153-1157.
- Bernal Shirai, J. A., Diaz Lopez, B., Méndez Fernández, P., Bilbao Prieto, A. & Díaz da Silva, J.I., 2006. "Analysis of diving behaviour of a solitary male bottlenose dolphin in the inshore waters of Galicia (Spain)" 20th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society ECS 2006 - Gdynia, Polonia.
- Diaz Lopez B., Addis A., Fabiano, F., 2013. "Ecology of bottlenose dolphins along the north-western Sardinian coastal waters (Italy)". Thalassas, 29 (2): 35-44.
- Diaz Lopez, B., 2007. "The pressures of aquaculture and gillnets fisheries on coastal bottlenose dolphins off Sardinia" ACCOBAMS - MiPAAF. Rome, 10–11 September 2007. Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery.
- Diaz Lopez, B., 2007. "Bottlenose dolphin depredation on aquaculture and gillnets along the north-eastern coast of Sardinia" ACCOBAMS - MiPAAF. Rome, 10–11 September 2007. Italian Ministry of Agriculture and fishery.
- Fortuna M, Bearzi, G., Bedocchi D., Bortolotto A., Butti C., Corsolini S., Cozzi, B., Díaz López B., Di Guardo G., Fossi M.C., Fozzi A., Gattoni A., Impetuoso A., Magnone F., Marsili L., Nuti S., Pavan G., Podestà M., Politi E., Panigada S., Tunesi L., Zuppa F. and Zucca P., 2008. Italy. Progress report on cetacean research, January 2007 to December 2007, with statistical data for the season 2006/2007. International Whaling Commission IWC C/60/ Progress Report Italy.
- Fortuna M, Agazzi S., Bortolotto A, Canese S., Clò S., Cozzi B., Di Guardo G., Diaz Lopez B., Fossi M.C., Gaspari S., Gattoni A., Giusti M., Impetuoso A., La Manna G., Lauriano G., Marsili L., Mazzariol S.,Mazzola A., Moulins A., Nani B., Natoli A., Nuti S., Pavan G., Pelusi P., Podestà M., Rosso M., Rotta A., Trombetti C., Tunesi L. and Volpi C. 2007. Italy. Progress report on cetacean research, January 2006 to December 2006, with statistical data for the calendar year 2005. International Whaling Commission IWC C/59/ Progress Report Italy.
- Diaz Lopez, B. & Bernal Shirai, J.A., 2006. "Diurnal & Nocturnal behaviour of bottlenose dolphin groups with emphasis on foraging activity on the northeastern coast of Sardinia (Italy)". In: European Research on Cetaceans, 20th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society ECS 2006 - Gdynia, Polonia.
- Fortuna M, Agazzi S., Arcangeli A., Bedocchi D, Blasi F., Borsani F. Bortolotto A, Buffa G., Cozzi B., Di Guardo G., Diaz Lopez B., Fattorosi L., Fossi M.C., Fozzi A., Gattoni M., Giurisato M., Gnone G., Impetuoso A., Lauriano G., Maggiani F., Magnone F., Mancusi C., Marsili L., Mazzariol S., Moulins A., Natoli A., Nuti S., Pavan G., Pelusi P., Podestà M., Rosso M., Serena F., Tepsich P. and Tunesi L., 2006 Italy. Progress report on cetacean research, January 2007 to December 2007, with statistical data for the calendar year 2006. International Whaling Commission IWC C/60/ Progress Report Italy.
- Diaz Lopez, B., 2005. Interactions between bottlenose dolphins with trammel nets in the Sardinia Island. International Council for Exploration of the Sea Document CM 2005/X 1.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Polo, F. and Marini, L., 2001. "Feeding behaviour of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) along the north-eastern coast of Sardinia". Talk presented at the 29th Annual Symposium EAAM. Genova 9–12 March 2001.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Marini, L.., Polo, F. and Brovelli, M., 2001. "Etologia del tursiope, Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821), lungo la costa nord-orientale della Sardegna". Talk presented at the 5 Convegno Nazionale sui Cetacei e sulle Tartarughe Marine CSC. 6–9 December. Comune di Monte Argentario (GR), Italy.
- Díaz López B. , 2012. "Bottlenose dolphins and aquaculture: interaction and site fidelity on the north-eastern coast of Sardinia (Italy)". Marine Biology. 159 (10): 2161 - 2172.
- Castel, C., Diaz Lopez, B., Shirai, J.A.B., 2008. "Environmental & anthropogenic variables influencing bottlenose dolphin presence in a marine fin fish farm". 22nd Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society ECS , Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands, 10–12 March 2008
- Diaz Lopez, B. & Bernal Shirai, J.A., 2006. "Estudio multiescalar de la influencia de la acuicultura en la presencia de delfines mulares Tursiops truncatus (Montagu 1821)". CIVA, 2006: 282 - 290pp.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Marini, L.. and Polo, F., 2004. "Evolution of a bottlenose dolphins population in the North-Eastern waters of Sardinia (Italy)". In: European Research on Cetaceans - 15 (Ed- P.G.H. Evans).European Cetacean Society ECS, pp 70-73. Cambridge, UK. 2002
- Diaz Lopez B. and Shirai, J.A., 2008. "Marine aquaculture and bottlenose dolphins social structure". Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 62(6): 887-894.
- Diaz Lopez B. and Shirai, J.A., 2007. "Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) presence and incidental capture in a marine fish farm on the north-eastern coast of Sardinia (Italy)" Journal of Marine Biological Association U.K, 87, 113-117.
- Diaz Lopez, B., 2006. "Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Predation on a Marine Fin Fish Farm:Some Underwater Observations". Aquatic Mammals 32(3): 305 - 310 pp.
- Diaz Lopez, B., 2007. "Bottlenose dolphin depredation on aquaculture and gillnets along the north-eastern coast of Sardinia" ACCOBAMS - MiPAAF. Rome, 10–11 September 2007. Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Marini, L. and Polo, F., 2004. "Evolution of a bottlenose dolphins population in the North-Eastern waters of Sardinia (Italy)". In: European Research on Cetaceans - 15 (Ed- P.G.H. Evans). European Cetacean Society ECS, pp 70-73. Cambridge, UK. 2002
- Diaz Lopez, B., Marini, L.., Polo, F. and Brovelli, M., 2001. "Etologia del tursiope, Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821), lungo la costa nord-orientale della Sardegna". Talk presented at the "5 Convegno Nazionale sui Cetacei e sulle Tartarughe Marine CSC ". 6–9 December. Comune di Monte Argentario (GR), Italy.
- Diaz Lopez, B., 2005. "Interaction between bottlenose dolphins and fish farms: could there be an economic impact?" International Council for Exploration of the Sea Document CM 2005/X 10.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Marini, L., Polo, F., 2005. "The impact of a fish farm on a bottlenose dolphin population in the Mediterranean Sea". Thalassas international Journal of Marine Sciences , 2005, 21 (2): 53-58.
- Diaz Lopez, B., 2005 & Shirai, A., 2005. "A survey of anti-bottlenose dolphin control at marine fish farm". Talk presented at the 6o Convegno Nazionale sui Cetacei e sulle Tartarughe Marine CSC. November. Comune di Sperlonga (LT), Italy.
- Diaz Lopez B., Bunke, M. and Shirai, J.A., 2008. "Marine aquaculture off Sardinia Island (Italy):ecosystem effects evaluated through a trophic mass-balance model". Ecological Modelling 212: 292-303.
- Diaz Lopez, B.; Marini, L.; Polo, F. & Brovelli, M., 2002. "Photoidentification of bottlenose dolphin in waters of north-eastern Sardinia". Poster presented at the 16th Annual Conference European Cetacean Society ECS. Liege 2002.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Marini, L.., Polo, F. and Brovelli, M., 2001. "Fotoidentificazione di tursiope, Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821), presenti nelle acque della costa Nord.orientale della Sardegna". Poster presented at the 5 Convegno Nazionale sui Cetacei e sulle Tartarughe Marine CSC. 6–9 December. Comune di Monte Argentario (GR), Italy.
- Troncone, R., Diaz Lopez, B., Shirai, J.A.B., 2008. "Trial of acoustics deterrents for prevention of bottlenose dolphin depredation on gillnets". 22nd Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society ECS, Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands, 10–12 March 2008
- Fortuna M, Bearzi, G., Bedocchi D., Bortolotto A., Butti C., Corsolini S., Cozzi, B., Díaz López B., Di Guardo G., Fossi M.C., Fozzi A., Gattoni A., Impetuoso A., Magnone F., Marsili L., Nuti S., Pavan G., Podestà M., Politi E., Panigada S., Tunesi L., Zuppa F. and Zucca P., 2008. Italy. "Progress report on cetacean research, January 2007 to December 2007, with statistical data for the season 2006/2007". International Whaling Commission IWC C/60/ Progress Report Italy.
- Underhill, K., Diaz Lopez, B., and Shirai, J.A., 2007. "Boat traffic effects on the diving behaviour of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Sardinia, Italy". Poster presented at the 21st Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society ECS, San Sebastián, Spain, 2007.
- Diaz Lopez, B. & Shiray, A., 2005. "Analysis of diving behaviour on bottlenose dolphins studied in the inshore waters of Sardinia". Talk presented at the 6 Convegno Nazionale sui Cetacei e sulle Tartarughe Marine CSC. November. Comune di Sperlonga (LT), Italy.
- Polo, F; Diaz Lopez, B.; Marini, L. & Brovelli, M., 2002. "Fast ferries influence on the bottlenose dolphin presence and social structure in waters of North-eastern Sardinia". Poster presented at the 16th Annual Conference European Cetacean Society ECS. Liege 2002.
- Diaz Lopez, B., Marini, L.., Polo, F. and Brovelli, M., 2001. "Influenza dei traghetti veloci sulla presenza e la struttura sociale del tursiope, Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821), nelle acque della Sardegna". Poster presented at the 5 Convegno Nazionale sui Cetacei e sulle Tartarughe Marine CSC. 6–9 December. Comune di Monte Argentario (GR), Italy.
- Diaz Lopez, B and Shirai, J.A., 2008. "Whistles characteristics and repertoire of wild bottlenose dolphins in Sardinia Island, Italy". RIMMO 16 ème Conférence Internationale sur les Cétacés en Méditerranée, Nice France, 15 November 2008.
- Díaz López B., 2011. "Whistle characteristics in free-ranging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Mediterranean Sea: influence of behaviour". Mammalian Biology 76: 180-189.
- Díaz López B, and Methion S, 2015. "Abundance estimate, distribution and use of habitat of dolphin species in Abu-Dhabi waters during the summer and winter 2014". Final report - Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, EA. March 2015. 148pp.