[MARMAM] Seeking volunteer research assistants in Australia on dolphins

Kate Sprogis K.Sprogis at murdoch.edu.au
Tue Mar 23 23:39:14 PDT 2021

Seeking volunteer research assistants to evaluate the ecology and biology of coastal dolphins in Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia.

Project Outline: The Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab (CEBEL) at Flinders University is seeking full-time volunteer assistants for assistance on a dolphin research project to assess the ecology of coastal dolphins in Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia. The study is part of a long-term research project led by CEBEL on the ecology of inshore dolphins in the Ningaloo-Exmouth region. Information on the distribution, encounter rates and habitat use of Australian humpback dolphins (Sousa sahulensis) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in Exmouth Gulf is lacking. This information is crucial to collect as the gulf is under increasing human pressure. On the International IUCN Redlist, Australian humpback dolphins are listed as vulnerable and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are listed as near-threatened (Parra et al. 2017, Braulik et al. 2019). Thus, this research will fill crucial knowledge gaps on inshore dolphin numbers, distribution and habitat use to assist environmental impact assessments and conservation management actions.

Dates: We are seeking 2-3 volunteers for dedicated, full-time assistance from May 1st to July 31st 2021 (for the whole duration or half the duration).

Primary Investigators: Dr Kate R. Sprogis and Assistant Professor Guido J. Parra. Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab (CEBEL), Flinders University, Australia.

Location: Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia. Exmouth is a small, remote town with limited shops and facilities that is ~16hrs drive north of Perth.

Specifics: The research project is office and boat based. When the weather permits (<15 kn winds, Beaufort sea state <3, no precipitation), boat-based line-transect surveys will be conducted where 3 people are on the boat. The boat is a 6 m rigid hull, centre console. On transect, the vessel will be driven at slow speed, whilst searching for dolphins with the naked eye and binoculars. Once dolphins are sighted, the transect will be paused, and the dolphins will be slowly approached to collect information on the dolphin’s location (time and latitude/longitude), group size and age composition, predominant behaviour (e.g. travelling, resting, socialising, foraging, feeding), and environmental variables (water depth, sea surface temperature, benthic habitat type). Photographs of individual dolphin dorsal fins will be taken for photo-identification purposes. Surveys will follow standardised methods used in previous studies of coastal dolphins in Australia (e.g. Parra et al. 2006, Sprogis et al. 2016), including the North West Cape (Hunt et al. 2017, Hunt et al. 2019, Haughey et al. 2020, Hunt et al. 2020). After boating, data is downloaded and equipment is cleaned and charged to prepare for the next day. When the weather does not permit, we work in the office on data entry, photo-identification of dolphin dorsal fins, maintenance of equipment, project organisation and logistics (e.g. weather checking for timing for boating). The office is in a shared research house. Team work in a small team is crucial. Assistants and researchers live in the shared-research house, where cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping is done as a team. There will be 3-4 people on the team at any one time.

Preferred skills and traits: We seek hard-working, motivated, friendly people that are willing to give it their all to achieve a great research output. We seek people who are attuned to the intensities of fieldwork and research. Prior field experience with cetacean research, on small-boats and in small teams is preferred. Assistants should be adaptable and patient as fieldwork is highly weather dependent (e.g. any day with <15knt winds, including weekends, on consecutive days and can be 8hr long days). As many days are office days, we seek individuals that have initiative, but will also work diligently on routine tasks. We are seeking people that have a genuine interest in wildlife and conservation research. As field researchers, our lives consist of living in a house with assistants for extended durations, so we seek easy-going, positive, kind, team-players with a mature attitude. Housing will be in a house, and a caravan at times, so small spaces will need to be shared. Being fluent in spoken English is preferred.

What will you gain?: On the boat, you will gain knowledge on the behaviour, habitat use and distribution differences of humpback dolphins and bottlenose dolphins, how to conduct dolphin photo-identification surveys and field skills (reading weather in a remote location, driving a boat, using an SLR camera for fast moving dolphins). In the office, you will learn how to enter environmental and behavioural data, and identify unique dolphin dorsal fins and catalogue existing and new fins into a dolphin-identification catalogue.

COVID-restrictions: Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the Australian border is only open to Australian citizens and residents. Therefore, we will only be able to accept applications from international assistants already in Australia and local residents.

Accommodation and Travel: Costs of housing will be covered by the project for the research season. Due to limited funding, research assistants will be responsible for the costs of their own food and travel to Exmouth, Western Australia (coach buses and direct flights from Perth are available). Costs of food will be split among the team for shared breakfast, lunch and dinners (unless there are specific dietary requirements). Travel will be covered if the assistant leaves with Dr Sprogis in the car for a 16hr drive from Perth to Exmouth across 2 days leaving April 30th, and returning July 31st.

If you are interested, please provide a short CV (2 pages, including the emails of two academic referees) and a one-page cover letter in a single PDF to k.sprogis at murdoch.edu.au<mailto:k.sprogis at murdoch.edu.au>. Please send application documents as soon as possible, by 1st April 2021 the latest. Short-listed candidates will be contacted shortly afterwards.

Dr Kate Sprogis
Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab (CEBEL),
Flinders University, Australia.
k.sprogis at murdoch.edu.au
Twitter, Instagram: @KateSprogis
Twitter, Facebook: @CEBELresearch

References of interest:

-          Braulik, G., A. Natoli, J. Kiszka, G. Parra, S. Plön and B. D. Smith. 2019. Tursiops aduncus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

-          Haughey, R., T. Hunt, D. Hanf, R. W. Rankin and G. J. Parra. 2020. Photographic capture-recapture analysis reveals a large population of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) with low site fidelity off the North West Cape, Western Australia. Frontiers in Marine Science 6:781

-          Hunt, T. N., S. J. Allen, L. Bejder and G. J. Parra. 2019. Assortative interactions revealed in a fission–fusion society of Australian humpback dolphins. Behavioral Ecology 30:914-927

-          Hunt, T. N., S. J. Allen, L. Bejder and G. J. Parra. 2020. Identifying priority habitat for conservation and management of Australian humpback dolphins within a marine protected area. Scientific Reports 10:1-14

-          Hunt, T. N., L. Bejder, S. J. Allen, R. W. Rankin, D. Hanf and G. J. Parra. 2017. Demographic characteristics of Australian humpback dolphins reveal important habitat toward the southwestern limit of their range. Endangered Species Research 32:71-88.

-          Parra, G., D. Cagnazzi, W. Perrin and G. T. Braulik. 2017. Sousa sahulensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017.

-          Parra, G. J., P. J. Corkeron and H. Marsh. 2006. Population sizes, site fidelity and residence patterns of Australian snubfin and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins: Implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 129:167-180.

-          Sprogis, K. R., H. C. Raudino, R. Rankin, C. D. Macleod and L. Bejder. 2016. Home range size of adult Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in a coastal and estuarine system is habitat and sex-specific. Marine Mammal Science 32:287-308.

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