Research Topic

The Dolphins of Sarasota Bay: Lessons from 50 years of Research and Conservation

About this Research Topic

Long-term research is vital for understanding the lives of animals in their natural environment. For long-lived animals living in an aquatic environment, these studies can be particularly challenging. This year, 2020, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which conducts the world's longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. We began our studies of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Sarasota Bay - a natural laboratory with typically calm waters, and ready access to a year-round resident population of identifiable dolphins. We started by focusing on the fates of individuals by tagging them, tracking their movements, and recording their behavior and social bonds. Our focus then expanded to the population level, identifying the matriarchal bands the formed the backbone of dolphin society within the Sarasota community, the multiple communities along the coastline, and the male alliances that genetically linked adjacent communities. Our focus expanded to both the ecosystem and the physiological levels. The ecosystem research on dolphin prey, predators, and other components of the ecosystem provides an important perspective for interpreting long-term dolphin data, while the physiological provides information on metabolism, diving behavior, energetics and, importantly, health assessment of an urban population subject to pollutants and heavy boat traffic and other human activities.

We currently recognize virtually every individual in the community. We have documented six generations of residents, with as many as five concurrent generations in a maternal lineage, and including individuals up to 67 years of age. The natural laboratory in Sarasota Bay has also provided unique opportunities to develop, refine, validate, and test field research techniques and tools, and train researchers from around the world to enhance conservation capacity in their home countries. The findings from this program are used by wildlife managers for conservation of the species throughout the southeastern U.S. Our long-term datasets establish the Sarasota dolphins as a reference population for comparative studies of at-risk populations at other sites around the U.S. to identify and characterize impacts from various threats.

This volume will be a compilation of review papers and new research findings by subject experts, long-term research collaborators, and SDRP staff. We will describe the Program's mission, vision, and approach to research, how our research with the bottlenose dolphins of Sarasota Bay has contributed to our knowledge of the species' biology and conservation, and how the work has benefited bottlenose dolphins beyond Sarasota Bay, and small cetaceans around the world. Sarasota Bay dolphins were the first for which long-term residency was described, leading to the first descriptions of bottlenose dolphin life history, social structure and population structure, including genetic relationships. Concurrent investigation of ecological parameters has facilitated interpretation of population dynamics and behavior. Background knowledge of the individual residents and their relationships facilitated ground-breaking studies of whistle communication. The volume will summarize and synthesize what we have learned to date about bottlenose dolphins and their needs for continued survival, and will demonstrate the value of longitudinal, collaborative research.


Keywords: bottlenose dolphin, estuarine ecology, communication, behavioral ecology, health and contaminants


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Long-term research is vital for understanding the lives of animals in their natural environment. For long-lived animals living in an aquatic environment, these studies can be particularly challenging. This year, 2020, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which conducts the world's longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. We began our studies of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Sarasota Bay - a natural laboratory with typically calm waters, and ready access to a year-round resident population of identifiable dolphins. We started by focusing on the fates of individuals by tagging them, tracking their movements, and recording their behavior and social bonds. Our focus then expanded to the population level, identifying the matriarchal bands the formed the backbone of dolphin society within the Sarasota community, the multiple communities along the coastline, and the male alliances that genetically linked adjacent communities. Our focus expanded to both the ecosystem and the physiological levels. The ecosystem research on dolphin prey, predators, and other components of the ecosystem provides an important perspective for interpreting long-term dolphin data, while the physiological provides information on metabolism, diving behavior, energetics and, importantly, health assessment of an urban population subject to pollutants and heavy boat traffic and other human activities.

We currently recognize virtually every individual in the community. We have documented six generations of residents, with as many as five concurrent generations in a maternal lineage, and including individuals up to 67 years of age. The natural laboratory in Sarasota Bay has also provided unique opportunities to develop, refine, validate, and test field research techniques and tools, and train researchers from around the world to enhance conservation capacity in their home countries. The findings from this program are used by wildlife managers for conservation of the species throughout the southeastern U.S. Our long-term datasets establish the Sarasota dolphins as a reference population for comparative studies of at-risk populations at other sites around the U.S. to identify and characterize impacts from various threats.

This volume will be a compilation of review papers and new research findings by subject experts, long-term research collaborators, and SDRP staff. We will describe the Program's mission, vision, and approach to research, how our research with the bottlenose dolphins of Sarasota Bay has contributed to our knowledge of the species' biology and conservation, and how the work has benefited bottlenose dolphins beyond Sarasota Bay, and small cetaceans around the world. Sarasota Bay dolphins were the first for which long-term residency was described, leading to the first descriptions of bottlenose dolphin life history, social structure and population structure, including genetic relationships. Concurrent investigation of ecological parameters has facilitated interpretation of population dynamics and behavior. Background knowledge of the individual residents and their relationships facilitated ground-breaking studies of whistle communication. The volume will summarize and synthesize what we have learned to date about bottlenose dolphins and their needs for continued survival, and will demonstrate the value of longitudinal, collaborative research.


Keywords: bottlenose dolphin, estuarine ecology, communication, behavioral ecology, health and contaminants


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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01 September 2020 Manuscript

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Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

01 September 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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