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Dolphins teach each other begging habits

Thursday, 21 June 2012 06:00

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dolphin begThe feeding of dolphins is illegal under both state and federal law and fines of up to $10,000 can apply. Flickr:Charlie Brewer.DOLPHINS may endanger their own lives if they learn to beg, according to a recent study on 74 dolphins in Cockburn Sound.

The study found bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) have learnt begging behaviour from other dolphins that already accept food from humans.

Dolphins who beg are more likely to become entangled in fishing nets or collide with boats as they become more confident in approaching humans.

The Murdoch University Cetacean Research Group (MUCRU) and the Conservation Medicine Program study, published in Animal Conservation in March 2012, is based on a decade of research from 1993 to 2003 by marine biologists Hugh Finn and Bec Donaldson.  

Transect samples were taken across Cockburn Sound to determine recreational boat density.

Significant considerations in research included association between conditioned dolphins and non conditioned dolphins and use of the areas with higher recreational boat densities but age and sex were no factored. 

The number of dolphins begging for food increased over 10 years from one to 14 individuals.

Three known deaths out of twelve incidents of boat strikes, entanglement in nets and lines or injury were recorded. Some individuals had swallowed fishing gear indicated by embedded fish hooks.

“Bottlenose dolphins just happen to be a compelling example of a socially-complex species,” Ms Donaldson says.

“Like most wildlife (dolphins) are trying to survive alongside humans. Perth’s dolphins are under pressure.”

Ms Donaldson’s research was funded by the BP Kwinana Refinery at the suggestion of employees who enjoyed watching the species.

In 2008, the federal Envirofund grant funded ‘Keep Perth’s Dolphins and Sea-Lions Wild’ campaign ran for 18 months.

In conjunction with Rockingham Wild Encounters, it educated the community through signage, shelters, pamphlets and talks given by Ms Donaldson to over 3,000 school students. 

Agencies such as the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Kwinana Industries Council and local councils donated staff time.

The Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project was set up to continue Dr Finn’s research on the Swan Canning Riverpark dolphin populations for the next four years.

The feeding of dolphins is illegal under both state and federal law and fines of up to $10,000 can apply. Humans are also at risk of accidental bites.

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