Project Burrunan

Project Burrunan - Melbourne cityscape
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Project Burrunan


Do you like dolphins? Yes. Well this is for you!

Did you know that Port Phillip Bay is home to a new dolphin species?

In 2011, Principal Researcher and Founding Director of the Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF), Dr Kate Robb, formally identified and named Tursiops australis, known commonly as ‘Burrunan dolphin’ following Australian aboriginal narrative (Charlton-Robb et al. 2011).

The Burrunan dolphin has already been listed as ‘Threatened’ under the Victorian State Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act due to its small and isolated populations. In accordance with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the Burrunan dolphin would be classified as ‘data deficient’.

Conservation Concern

The Burrunan dolphin is endemic to southern Australian coastal waters and is characterised by small, genetically distinct and isolated populations. There are only two known resident populations Port Phillip Bay and Gippsland Lakes.

The specific aim of this project is to investigate the population structure of Port Phillip Bay’s resident Burrunan dolphin. This population has significant conservation concern due to their low levels of genetic diversity, close proximity to urban and residential settings and high exposure to various anthropogenic threats.

MMF’s Project Burrunan is the only research program of its kind in Victoria. With a special focus on the newly described dolphin species, this research aims to protect and conserve this charismatic and endemic dolphin for future generations to enjoy.

In order to establish greater protection and conservation for our unique Burrunan dolphin we need to bridge the gaps in our current knowledge about this new species by addressing a number of data deficiencies. Greater scientific knowledge underpinning the correct management and conservation of this species is crucial. With no data there is no incentive for action and without action we can have no conservation.

So what’s this all about?

We will be conducting an important population assessment for Port Phillip Bay’s resident population of Burrunan dolphin. Using photos of the dolphin’s dorsal fin we can individually identify and catalogue dolphins in our population. We identify individuals based on unique nicks and notches along the trailing edge of the dolphin’s dorsal fin. Each distinctly marked individual will be catalogued and used to estimate the population size, calving rates, movement patterns and identify important regions for the dolphins. This project is a crucial step to better understanding and protecting the Burrunan dolphin not only for conservation of biodiversity but also for future generations to enjoy!

The data collected as a part of Project Burrunan will go towards numerous specific projects including assessment on social alliances, acoustics and noise impact, behaviour, identifying areas of significance, robust population modeling and much more…

How can you help?

By donating to this project you are supporting ongoing research aimed at conserving and protecting our precious Burrunan dolphin. Any contribution, big or small, would be greatly appreciated and will go a long way to making this project possible.

All donations or gifts over $2 are tax deductible. Please contact info@marinemammal.org.au for a receipt.

How the funds will be used

Port Phillip Bay is a large drowned river system covering an area of approximately 1930km2. We will be conducting surveys in the north, east, south and western parts of the bay in order to obtain a representative sample of the whole area. As you can imagine, travelling to different parts of the Bay is timely and expensive. We will be conducting 8 – 10 surveys (weather being the biggest determining factor) twice per season, with repeated effort in 4 zones. This is the minimum number of survey days required for us to collect an adequate data set to hopefully saturate the discovery curve (identify all marked dolphins in the population over time).  The greatest costs associated with this project include driver and research vessel expenses. Each survey day will run for approximately 8 hours. This includes getting to our location, unloading and loading the boat and completing one zone per day. It will cost approximately $600 per day to collect this important information.

With greater support, we can extend these surveys across the entire year to assess the seasonal variation and habitat usage of the Bay, building a more complete image of this iconic species.

See below for the donation options we support!

Paypal via donate button

Cheques can be made out to Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation and sent via post to:

Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation,
PO Box 2046,
Hampton East 3188,

Direct Debit please email info@marinemammal.org.au for banking details.


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