Local scientists take marine mammal research to the world stage

Local scientists take marine mammal research to the world stage

Local marine biologists are taking their research to the world stage at the prestigious Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Halifax, Canada. 

Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, Director of the Marine Mammal Foundation, and MMF researchers Ms Nicola Sondermeyer and Ms Chantel Foord are preparing to make the massive journey across the globe.

An amazing 1275 abstracts were submitted for the conference with Dr Kate, Nicola and Chantel chosen to present their international significant research. “This is not only fantastic to have our applied research recognised internationally, but also acts as great as a role model for women in science.” Dr Kate Charlton-Robb states.

Conference organisers are anticipating over 1500 scientists, managers, policy makers and student delegates from 65 countries will congregate to discuss cutting edge marine mammal science and conservation strategies.

Dr Kate will be presenting recent genomic research on the iconic Burrunan dolphin. “We have been able to isolate over 11,840 DNA regions across the entire dolphin genome to assess the species status and population structure.” This is the first of its kind for the local Burrunan dolphin. Only discovered in 2011, the small isolated populations in Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes, are genetically distinct from the two other bottlenose species, and are already listed as ‘endangered’.

“Burrunan dolphin are highly social animals, with very complex social structures” Nicola states. Researchers also assessed the local Port Phillip Bay Burrunan dolphin population and found very different male and female strategies. “Male Burrunan dolphin formed tight and long-lasting bonds, and often showed a preference for particular regions across the Bay. Whilst our female Burrunan remained within female-based nursery pods.” These female networks provide shared-care of Burrunan dolphin young, provide learning opportunities and safety.

Chantel investigated over 15,000 marine mammal records dating back to the late 1800s. “We found 29 cetacean species (whales and dolphins) and 7 pinniped species from numerous different habitat types, from resident species to Antarctica and tropical species.” Chantel explains. Researchers were able to assess the drivers to distribution. “This research provides a comprehensive record of marine mammals for the region and a baseline in which to measure change, predicted with global climate change.”

The Marine Mammal Foundation (a small local charity organisation), need additional support to enable the research team make the journey from sunny Melbourne to wintery Canada. A crowd-funding campaign has been established to assist them on their journey.

For more information please contact us at info@marinemammal.org.au

The research was in part funded by the Victorian State Government and in collaborations with Deakin University, Museum Victoria and Zoos Victoria.

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