What: The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program was founded at Mote Marine Laboratory in 1970 and has been operated here since 1989 by the Chicago Zoological Society. Dr. Randall Wells is its longtime director. Interns studying marine science from 45 countries have participated in the research program.
The subjects: Some 170 bottlenose dolphins live year-round in the waters between southern Tampa Bay and the Venice Inlet. They range up to age 67 and span as many as five concurrent generations. Some have been observed over more than four decades.
Tracking: Distinctive nicks and notches on their dorsal fins serve as individual “fingerprints,” says Wells. Scientists also take monthly photographic ID surveys.
Among the program’s findings: Bottlenose dolphins can grow to 600 pounds and nine feet long. Pairs of male dolphins form lifelong bonds, swimming and hunting together from an early age. Females can give birth well into their 40s, and calves stay close to their mothers for three to six years. Some female dolphins return to their mothers to raise their young, forming a multigenerational group.
Why it’s important: By identifying these dolphins’ responses to human activities and environmental changes, marine biologists can develop protective measures to allow them to survive and thrive in Sarasota Bay and elsewhere.