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Dolphin reproductive research aided by drones from the University of Hawai'i

Drones help dolphin reproductive research at University of Hawai’i

Drones aid the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) and Dolphin Quest as they are conducting a scientific study aimed at better understanding the health of dolphin populations.

Drones help dolphin reproductive research at University of Hawai’i

Frequent human activities in the spinner dolphins’ environment are disrupting the dolphins’ natural behaviors scientists worry. Human interference may adversely affect the animals’ reproduction.

Fabien Vivier, a Ph.D. student with MMRP, uses a drone to fly over a pregnant bottlenose dolphin at the Dolphin Quest facility at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaiʻi Island. The drone helps him to gather baseline data that will help him detect pregnancy in female dolphins out in the open ocean, which in turn will help to estimate pregnancy rates for the populations of dolphins in the wild.

“Studying dolphins at Dolphin Quest is really helpful because it allows us to verify our methodologies at a specific known stage of pregnancy, which couldn’t be accomplished working only in the wild,” Vivier said. “This information is quite relevant to studying and conserving other species such as Hawaiʻi’s spinner dolphins because, even though the species are different, they share many similarities. If we are able to detect pregnancy from a drone perspective in the bottlenose dolphin, the likelihood of detecting pregnancy in a spinner dolphin is very good.”

Dolphin reproductive research aided by drones from the University of Hawai'i

According to scientists continuing reproduction supports critical wildlife conservation and is also good for the dolphin social group.

“Reproduction and calf-rearing is important for dolphin welfare. It is a natural and enriching social behavior for dolphins in the wild and in modern zoos, aquariums and marine life parks,” said Dolphin Quest Marine Mammal Reproduction Specialist Holley Muraco. “Accredited facilities like Dolphin Quest have excellent reproductive success, which leads to long-term population sustainability and eliminates the need for collection from the wild.”

The next step in the survey of the spinner dolphins is scheduled for October, Vivier said. He plans to tweet about the project through MMRP’s Twitter feed.

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