Researchers from the Marine Mammal Foundation are currently at the Gippsland Lakes researching the Burrunan dolphin and noting the number of dolphins, interactions with boats and dolphin behaviour.
Dr Kate Charlton-Robb from the Marine Mammal Foundation said the Gippsland Lakes is home to a small population of only 63 dolphins, which doubles in population size during the winter months.
“We know there is less dolphin activity in the Gippsland Lakes during the summer months,” explained Dr Charlton-Robb
“We also know that the resident population use different parts of the Lakes seasonally, but what we don’t know is if this is due to the increase in boat traffic or if this shift would happen regardless.
“Other studies show increased boat and other vessel traffic, such as jet skis, can affect core biological activities of dolphin behaviour, such as feeding or resting, and can affect condition,” continued Dr Charlton-Robb.
There is currently no research on the frequency, location or type of boat interaction with the Burrunan dolphin in the Gippsland Lakes, nor on the population’s natural behaviour.
“The Burrunan dolphin is listed as endangered under Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, so it is important we understand what the threats are facing this small population.”
Investigating vessel impact on dolphin behaviour is an important piece in the puzzle of understanding the Burrunan, and how best to protect them.
“The current land based surveys we are doing aims to monitor dolphins and vessels near the entrance,” said Dr Charlton-Robb.
“This is obviously the only way in and out of the Lakes for the dolphins, so understanding how they use the area, incoming and outgoings, and how they behave and interact with vessels will increase our understanding.
“One Thursday on our July surveys revealed more than 70 vessel movements in a six hour period, which is a lot for a fairly random weekday in winter.
“We can compare this level of movement to summer, which will obviously be a lot higher.”
The vantage point at Kalimna offers a unique perspective across The Narrows and Lakes Entrance, acting as the only entry/exit point to Bass Strait for the dolphins, and an area of high vessel traffic.
A team of six researchers will conduct land-based observations from the Kalimna Lookout and Bullock Island across the year both now and in the summer months.
This project is funded by the Victorian State Government for the Gippsland Lakes.