UH study uses dolphins in captivity to better understand their wild counterparts

Updated: Feb. 11, 2020 at 4:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Dolphin Quest Oahu, University of Hawaii graduate student Fabien Vivier stretches out a tape measure to calculate a dolphin’s size.

"We asked them to lay flat or stationary so we can measure them in total length, which is for us from the tip of their nose all the way to the notch in their flukes," he said.

Vivier also used a drone to videotape and photograph the animals. He figured out a way to measure them from aerial images.

That's important.

"Once we have the length we have an estimate of their age," he said.

Vivier is involved with UH Manoa’s Marine Mammal Research Program. The program is partnering with NOAA and Dolphin Quest on the groundbreaking drone study.

“Not only do we want to support science that helps our own dolphins, but the big picture is definitely how can our dolphins here advocate for their wild counterparts,” said Nicole West, Dolphin Quest’s marine mammal manager.

The dolphins at Dolphin Quest range in age from 12 to 35 years.

That information plus their measurements give Vivier comparisons for wild dolphins he will study off the Kona coast next month.

"We're working on this study because there's a need for conservation of different populations of animals in the wild," he said.

The age of wild dolphins could indicate whether their reproductive rates are adequate or declining.

Vivier credits Dolphin Quest located at The Kahala Hotel & Resort for making his research possible.

"Working with Dolphin Quest is allowing us to have access to captive animals that we can use and calibrate our methodology on," he said.

“We’re able to get these amazing studies done because every day we work to maintain our relationship of trust, of mutual respect. We never force our dolphins to do anything,” West said.

The UH drone study will eventually expand to survey dolphin populations off the Florida coast.

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