The Research Project – Week Eleven, Hawai’ian Dolphins, Sentinals of Ocean Health

The first ten weeks of The Research Project I reported on research happening at the “flagship” public research universities in each state. For the next ten weeks I’d like to report on research going on at the major private universities of the next ten states on the list.

In week eleven we head out to our nation’s fiftieth state, Hawai’i. The state’s leading private, non-profit university is Hawai’i Pacific University, located in Honolulu. It should come as no surprise that a lot of the research HPU does is related to the ocean.

The project that caught my attention was HPU’s research on bottlenose dolphins. This is a summary of their research efforts:

Bottlenose dolphins can be found in both tropical and temperate waters worldwide. Dolphins are conspicuous animals that feed high in the oceanic food web. This makes dolphins good indicators of the marine environment and they are sometimes referred to as sentinels of ocean health. Through the cooperative efforts of these experts, the project aims to gain a better understanding of wild bottlenose dolphins. Research on bottlenose dolphins housed at Dolphin Quest facilities has allowed our team insight into their wild counterparts. We have also been able to collect samples from known wild dolphins that are part of a resident population in Sarasota Bay, Florida, under direct research of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.

I found it interesting that dolphins are thought of as sentinels of ocean health. In other words as the health of dolphins goes, so goes the health of the oceans. Also, since dolphins are mammals they have much in common with humans. They give birth to live young, their young survive on mothers milk for the first several months of their lives, they are very social and, even though they live in the sea, they breathe air just as we do.

Since dolphins are such popular mammals many of them are kept in captivity to entertain humans. Part of HPU’s dolphin research focus is to see if there are significant differences in the overall health of dolphins in the wild compared to dolphins in captivity.

The research that has been done on dolphins in Sarasota Bay Florida is led by Dr. Randall Wells, a researcher with the Chicago Zoological Society. Dr. Wells’ research on dolphins has been going on for 35 years. In that time he has amassed an unprecedented database on the wild dolphins of Sarasota Bay.The researchers at HPU have been able to use his data to augment their own research.

Here is a link to HPU’s dolphin research:

http://www.hpu.edu/CNCS/Research/BottlenoseDolphin/index.html

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