Research activities aim to provide the scientific baseline for effective conservation of dolphins and their habitat, by monitoring their trends and identifying the main threats affecting the animals. Another important reason for research is expanding the knowledge on biodiversity in our seas.
During research activities, we monitor the presence of dolphins in the study area and collect data on their movements, behaviour, interactions with fisheries and photo-identification. Surveys are conducted from boats and from land observation points, while data is also being recorded through acoustic monitoring. Surveys are only done in good weather (no strong wind, no rain, no fog). Data collection takes part in Slovenian waters, as well as in the neighbouring Croatian and Italian waters. Apart from dolphih research, we also collect data on loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta).
Boat surveys are conducted using a 5.8 m inflatable boat with rigid hull powered by a 60 HP four-stroke engine. When in search, the research crew visually scans the sea surface. Navigation and environmental data are collected during the survey.
Land-based watches are conducted from a land observation point, using binoculars and a theodolite. Theodolite is a device that enables us to determine the exact position of objects on the water surface and follow the movements of dolphins. Environmental and boat traffic data are also collected.
If dolphins are sighted at sea, the boat approaches the animals and starts the focal group follow. The boat stays with the animals for one or more hours, depending on the number of dolphins in their group, their behaviour, weather conditions or other circumstances. We usually aim to collect the necessary data as fast as we can and leave the dolphin group in less than an hour. Time, GPS position and other data are recorded at regular intervals.
Photo-identification is the central method used in this study. Individual dolphins are recognised by natural markings, such as scars, nicks and notches on dorsal fins. These markings are natural and result mainly from encounters between individual dolphins in social interactions. They can also be caused by other marine organisms and diseases, or encounters with humans. Pigment patterns, shape of the dorsal fin and other peculiarities can also help distinguish individuals. Since 2002 we have photo-identified over 150 dolphins, all of which were given names and included in the photographic identification catalogue.
When a group of dolphins is located, the aim is to get a fin shot of every member in the group. This method is non-invasive and can provide information on many aspects of dolphin biology and ecology.
If conditions allow it, dolphin behaviour is systematically recorded throughout the sighting, at regular intervals. Information such as group size and composition, presence of calves, dive times and potential interactions with fisheries are recorded, regardless of whether observations are done from a boat or from land.
Acoustic monitoring means that we monitor and study the animals by using special equipment – hydrophones (underwater mycrophones) – to detect and record their natural vocalisations. This way we can find out many interesting and important things. In collaboration with Marine Biology Station in Piran (Slovenia) and Chelonia Ltd (UK) we deployed a device called C-POD (see photo below) in the sea. The C-POD enables us to detect dolphin presence even in bad weather, during the night and whenever we are not able to be out in the field. This way we are gaining further insights into their patterns of occurrence in our waters, their feeding habits and even interactions with fisheries. We can also record dolphin sounds using a portable hydrophone.
After fieldwork the collected data need to be analysed. This is often done after the research season or during winter, although part of the data processing is carried out along the way.
All the field data need to be sorted and entered into a database. We also need to examine and sort hundreds of photographs. Time spent at the computer often exceeds the time spent at sea. Using statistical methods, modelling and various computer software, we are carrying out several types of scientific analyses in hope to learn new things about our dolphins.
Some results of scientific research done by Morigenos have been presented in peer-reviewed scientific papers, published in international scientific journals. Papers can be found on the page Scientific publications.
If you would like to join our research and experience the life of dolphin researchers, please visit the page Research Camps.