The Dolphin Watch Project - Australia

This is an award-winning project founded through an original collaboration between WDC and teachers Tony and Phyll Bartram in 2006. The basis of the project is that local school children get involved with survey and research work on local dolphin populations. This hands-on involvement has proved very popular among school children and WDC has been able to help expand the programme to additional locations in coastal Australia.

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WDC Australasia has secured external grants to support the expansion of this very successful and original collaborative project which started on Kangaroo Island, southern Australia.  The project is based on the development of a strong collaboration between school children and WDC scientists.  It has been successful and empowering for young people interested in marine conservation, protecting whales and dolphins and science.  The enthusiasm school children have for the project has rubbed off on their families at home, so that the wider communities have benefited from a greater connection to the marine environment and local wildlife.

Thanks to some very successful fundraising securing external grants by WDC Australasia, the project has been expanded to involve a total of six schools in South Australia (5) and Queensland (1).  The project has given students in these schools opportunities to join local dolphin research trips onboard boats and collect scientific and conservation data, including photo-ID photographs of whales and dolphins. The results to date have been very promising, particularly for the longest running, original project on Kangaroo Island.

The project team has found that taking school students out in boats to gather photo ID (and other) data is a successful way of encouraging them to take an interest in and be enthusiastic about science. It also provides opportunities for them to get involved in protecting dolphins and the rest of the marine environment. Involving school students in such activities helps generate widespread interest and support for the project and for WDC throughout the local communities.  In fact, community involvement is an integral part of the Dolphin Watch project; volunteers and supporters play a very important role in making it a success. Volunteers are responsible for land-based monitoring of the dolphins' movements, and cataloguing images of the dolphins sent in by the wider community. Being able to identify individual dolphins makes it easier to understand their movement patterns, and how populations might connect with one another.  

The ultimate aim of the project is to encourage these communities to become guardians for their local marine environment.  Over time, there is a real likelihood that school children, students, teachers, parents, local business operators and local politicians will feel committed to protect their local dolphins and have the knowledge required to do so very effectively!

Each new project is started on the basis that WDC will obtain grants to establish the Dolphin Watch Project in each school but that after two years the school must find ways to make the project sustainable via support from the local community. So far this has been very successful.