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Continued experiences at the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (BDRI)

Gemma Rae

Faculty: Science and Engineering
School: Life Sciences
Course: MSc Animal Behaviour: Applications for Conservation
Category: Animal sciences

25 May 2023

ARU Animal Behaviour: Applications for Conservation student Gemma continues her account of researching for her thesis on the impact of marine traffic on bottlenose dolphin diving behaviour at the BDRI in Galicia.

View from horseback of other horses and riders crossing a beach

Catch up on the first instalment of Gemma's experiences in Galicia.

It has been so interesting getting to know such a diverse group of people from around the world here at the BDRI – all with a shared love of animals – and I had a fun and relaxing weekend with them.

Horse riding through the forests and along the beach was definitely the highlight for me, and a great way to explore the beautiful surroundings here in Galicia.

Composite image of four views of forest and beach from horseback

Now it’s back to the BDRI lab and out in the field for another exciting week of dolphin research. I could happily watch dolphins all day – even from a distance they are mesmerising and make me feel a true sense of wonder and happiness.

I was monitoring a solitary dolphin foraging close to a small fishing boat during the last survey and saw several flukes up dives (or, in survey terms, FU).

Once I had located the dolphin, I didn’t want to blink as it’s too easy to lose sight of them, especially when the sea is rough. Luckily, we managed to keep it in our sights and direct the boat team by using landmarks such as nearby lighthouses to guide them in the right direction.

You can see from the picture below a beautiful example of a flukes up dive. The notches on each dolphin’s flukes can be used for photo identification, as they are unique to each animal.

A dolphin's tail showing above the surface of the sea

Image credit: © BDRI

During surveys, it has been quite alarming to see the frequency of boat traffic and other human activity occurring in such close proximity to the dolphins as this area is well-known for fishing and aquaculture.

Dolphins are often seen near the many bateas (Galician mussel farms) in the area, as you can see from the pictures below. The raft structures in the background are where mussels are cultivated on long ropes that hang beneath the surface, and this attracts dolphins.

A dolphin leaping out of the sea near a raft structure for catching mussels

Image credit: © BDRI

Two dolphins leaping out of the sea near a raft structure for catching mussels

Image credit: © BDRI

It is important to understand how human activities affect bottlenose dolphins and monitoring interactions between dolphins, fishing and aquaculture is a priority here at the BDRI.

I am so happy to have the opportunity to do my thesis on an important conservation issue that I genuinely care about and am so well supported by the staff at ARU (especially my supervisor Jim) and here at the BDRI.

I'm hoping to get out on the boat myself soon, but the highly changeable sea conditions here are making it a bit difficult at the moment. In the meantime, I will be more than happy studying the dolphins from land and learning more back at the lab.

Gemma is studying Animal Behaviour: Applications for Conservation at ARU in Cambridge. Find out more about this and other degree courses at one of our Open Days.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.