People living along the coast between Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast, and visitors to the coast, are being encouraged to report sightings of dolphins as part of an ongoing research project led by Southern Cross University.

A new online community Dolphin Sighting Network to monitor dolphin behaviour in the region stretching from Coffs Harbour to the Gold Coast has been set up as part of the University’s Dolphin Ecology and Acoustic Project.

Leading the project is Dr Liz Hawkins, who has been monitoring dolphins in the North Coast region for more than seven years.

“We are calling on people along the North Coast, from Coffs Harbour to the Gold Coast, to report their dolphin sightings and if possible send us their photos of the individual dorsal fins,” Dr Hawkins said.

“One photo can give us so much information, and if we have multiple sightings, that really helps us build up a valuable database of information.”

Dr Hawkins said very little was known about many of the dolphin populations that lived along the northern New South Wales coastline.

The information provided by members of the public will be particularly valuable for assessing the habitat use and abundance, as well as the health of dolphin populations.

Anyone in the community can become a certified Dolphin Sighting Network member by attending one of the workshops being planned up and down the coast.

The first workshop session will be held at the Byron Bay Community Centre, SCU room, on Friday May 21. There will be two workshops on this day, the first from 2pm to 4pm and the second from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

“The workshops will be presented by researchers and provide an overview of dolphin ecology, behaviour and communication and provide tips on what to look for, how to distinguish individual dolphins and how to take a good photo for research purposes,” Dr Hawkins said.

As part of the Dolphin Ecology and Acoustics Project, members of the community, businesses and schools can also participate in the ‘Adopt-a-dolphin’ program which will assist in providing funds for ongoing research.

“This program gives people the opportunity to support our research and to learn about the characteristics of individual dolphins,” Dr Hawkins said.

“Anyone can ‘adopt’ one of six individual dolphins and in return they will receive regular updates about the movements and behaviour of their dolphin and an official adoption package,.

“We already have a number of businesses supporting the program, including the Ramada Hotel and Suites in Ballina and the Beach Hotel, Byron Bay.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for schools and businesses to assist in the conservation and protection of our dolphins.”

Dr Hawkins said over the next two weeks a team of 20 volunteers would be participating in a field survey in the Cape Byron Marine Park, observing and tracking dolphins from the land and at sea.

Anyone interested in joining the Dolphin Sighting Network or the ‘Adopt-a-dolphin’ program can visit the website www.dolphinresearchaustralia.com or email info@dolphinresearchaustralia.com

The first Dolphin Sighting Network workshops at Byron Bay are being offered at a special price of $25. Bookings can be made via the website.

PICTURE: Community members are being encouraged to get involved in a Dolphin Sighting Network.