Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program Activities
January – March 2023
Galveston Bay Foundation and the Environmental Institute of Houston (University of Houston at Clear Lake) are pleased to share the latest Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program (GDRP) quarterly newsletter. Thank you for your interest in our research!
A Splashy Overview
It is not unusual for the weather (primarily high winds) to hinder our ability to conduct many boat-based surveys during the cooler months of the year, and this year has been no exception. Fortunately, the research crew was able to take advantage of the few days with good weather and completed four survey days, covering most of our primary study area in upper and lower Bay. During these surveys, we covered 412km (25hrs of observation) and sighted a total of 14 dolphin groups with over 100 dolphins.
Dolphins were particularly active during a sighting in March and the team photographed them engaging in various social behaviors. “Socializing” involves interactions between dolphins that can include physical contact, chasing, leaping, head slapping, and tail slapping.
Let’s talk about dolphin teeth!
Bottlenose dolphins are “Odontocetes” meaning “toothed cetaceans.” They develop a single set of 72-104 conical, peg-like teeth at about six-months of age and keep those teeth their entire lives. Dolphins use their teeth to catch and grasp prey, but do not chew like we do. Over time, the enamel wears down, and in some older animals the once pointed teeth can appear “truncated,” or even be lost entirely. The very first bottlenose dolphin specimen described (Montague 1821), had worn down teeth, leading to the scientific name “Tursiops truncatus!”
Exactly how an individual dolphin’s teeth wear down can be affected by many variables including diet, environmental contaminants, feeding strategies, and other social and life history factors. However, examining dental wear can provide one clue as to the broad age range of an animal. Digging deeper into the tooth, interior dentin is accumulated in growth layer groups (similar to growth rings in a tree) and can provide even more information about age when scientists are able to remove and examine a single tooth.
On February 9th, we celebrated our dedicated volunteers at the Galveston Bay Foundation’s annual volunteer appreciation event Bravos for the Bay. Dianne Fortham (far left) and Gene Fissler (far right) were recognized during the event as two of GDRP’s long-term volunteers, and were thanked by GDRP’s Co-Principal Investigators (Kristi Fazioli and Vanessa Mintzer). Together, Dianne and Gene have volunteered over 150 hours of their time during dolphin boat surveys and outreach events. THANK YOU!
Do you want to volunteer with the GDRP? We are now recruiting volunteers to participate in a Dolphin Monitoring and Outreach Station in Galveston! This new initiative is a collaboration between the GDRP and GBF’s Marine Debris Program. The Dolphin Monitoring and Outreach Station will consist of a group of volunteers that will collect dolphin sighting data from land and take photographs of dolphins, while engaging with on-site visitors/fishers to educate on how marine debris can affect dolphins. The station will be set up at Seawolf Park in Galveston, a location where dolphins are sighted often and where GBF’s Marine Debris team has identified high concentrations of fishing/monofilament debris.
The main objectives of the station are for volunteers to 1) document fisher-dolphin interactions and obtain photographs that can be used for post-analysis (e.g. for individual identification and to record scaring consistent with fishing debris entanglement), and 2) to use dolphins as a charismatic/flagship species to educate on the effects of marine debris and encourage the use of monofilament recycling tubes/bins at the park. Station volunteers must be at least 18 years old. They need to commit to completing at least one shift at the station per month and will need to attend an initial training workshop the weekend of June 24-25. If you are interested in applying for this unique opportunity, please see the application form for more details.
You may already be familiar with the printable flyers available on the GDRP website that explain how to view dolphins safely from recreational vessels (DOLPHIN SAFE VIEWING GUIDE) and tips for keeping dolphins safe when fishing (DOLPHIN SAFE FISHING GUIDE). We are translating these materials into Spanish to increase their reach, and the dolphin safe viewing guide is now available for download in Spanish. Please spread the word about these resources and explain to your family and friends how they can do their part to keep dolphins safe in Galveston Bay!
We want to share two exciting updates from our team’s prior research assistants! First, Alyssa Quackenbush was a research assistant with GDRP from 2021-22, and was instrumental in completing our study on the site fidelity of dolphin in upper Galveston Bay. She is now completing her master’s in Marine Mammal Science at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and in January, she presented the results of our study at the 17th Annual Conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s UK & Ireland Regional Student Chapter. Second, we recently said farewell to 2022-23 research assistant Kristina Simons. She is headed to the University of Georgia next month to pursue a master’s degree in Wildlife Science. For her thesis, she will be using epigenetics to study sea turtles. Congratulations, Alyssa and Kristina!
The content of this section is available to current members of our Dolphin Society. To become a member and receive updates on our individual dolphins, please adopt or name one of our dolphins. Adoption kits are a fun and unique gift! All funds go directly to the Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program.
What YOU want to Know…
“Why doesn’t Trinity Bay have many dolphin sightings?”
Sightings of animals by a research team reflect the areas where observational effort is concentrated. Historically, the GDRP focused most of our boat observational survey effort in the western portion of upper Galveston Bay. In 2022, we expanded our primary study area to cover additional areas in upper and lower Galveston Bay. However, Trinity Bay and East Bay are areas that we are still unable to survey on a regular basis – primarily due to lack of resources.
Currently, we suspect that there may not be as many dolphins in Trinity Bay compared to other areas of the Bay. It is a shallower area, and it has lower salinity due to continuous freshwater inflow from the Trinity River. Surveys by colleagues Ronje et al. (2020) had few sightings in Trinity Bay. While we know dolphins sometimes use this area, we cannot be certain of the frequency until we survey the area systematically. In fact, during a sighting in January that occurred on the border of our primary study area, we observed a group of dolphins traveling north into Trinity Bay. Dolphin fish prey species are found in Trinity Bay, so the shallow waters and low salinity may not deter dolphins from using Trinity Bay as foraging habitat. In the future, we hope to focus some of our efforts in Trinity Bay and be able to better address this intriguing question!
If you have a question regarding the GDRP, Galveston Bay dolphins, or dolphin biology, please submit your question using the button below. We select questions to answer from your submissions. We look forward to knowing what YOU want to know!
Dumbledolph, Sandy, and Sheba are three dolphin moms that are available for adoption as Mother’s Day gifts. Dolphin moms #66 and #1000 are available for naming. Gift adoption kits are delivered electronically and include photographs, a sighting map, and membership in our Dolphin Society. Please spread the word and help support our dolphin research with this unique Mother’s Day gift! The deadline to adopt or name a dolphin for this Mother’s Day is 12pm CT, May 3, 2023. Dolphin adoption/naming donations will not be accepted between May 4 and May 14.
All activities are conducted under a NMFS Scientific Research Permit.
Galveston Bay Foundation
1725 Highway 146
Kemah, TX 77565
Environmental Institute of Houston
University of Houston at Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Blvd.
Houston, TX, 77058