Answers to commonly asked questions about dolphins and about the Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program (GDRP)
Do you have more questions about dolphins that you want us to answer? Contact us and we will add them here.
How is the GDRP funded?
The Environmental Institute of Houston, the University of Houston Clear Lake and the Galveston Bay Foundation provide the primary support for the GDRP. Additional support and funding has been provided through grants from the Trull Foundation, the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation and Emergency Funds, Restore Americas Estuaries, and the Houston Zoo. Funds are also raised through local business supporters and private individuals through our Adopt-a-Dolphin campaign.
What is the Adopt-a-Dolphin program and how does it work?
The adopt-a-dolphin program allows citizens to symbolically adopt and/or name a dolphin in the GDRP catalog. Adoptions last a year and require a $200 donation. Namings are “permanent” and require a $2500 donation. While dolphins may be adopted by more than one donor, each dolphin will only be named once (the name will be utilized by the research team moving forward). You may become a member of our dolphin society and participate in our adoption program by visiting the GBF adopt-a-dolphin webpage.
What kind of permits do you need to study dolphins?
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (federal law) requires that all marine mammal research in the USA is conducted under federal permit, issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
How many dolphins are in Galveston Bay?
This can be a complicated question, as some dolphins may use Galveston Bay only temporarily and others may reside here year round. Currently, the GDRP has over 1000 distinctive dolphins in our catalog that were seen in Galveston Bay at least once. One recent estimate suggests a seasonal fluctuation in numbers with an abundance of between 846 (winter) and 1417 (summer) dolphins utilizing the Galveston Bay estuary (Ronje, E., H. Whitehead, K. Barry, S. Piwetz, J. Struve, V. Lecours, L. Garrison, R. S. Wells and K. D. Mullin. 2020. Abundance and Occurrence of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Three Estuaries of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Gulf and Caribbean Research 31 (1): 18-34.)
Where can I see dolphins in Texas?
Dolphins are found in most bays, estuaries and coastal near-shore areas of Texas. You can see them while boating, but also from the beach or from jetties and docks where you can watch from land. Dolphins can often be seen riding the bows of ships or following shrimp trawlers in Texas waters. They also sometimes forage near bulkheads and marinas. Always keep at least 50 yards away from dolphins and follow dolphin watching guidelines when boating.
Are there dolphin tours in Galveston Bay?
Yes. We do not have specific information about tour operators, but there are a few operating in Galveston. A good tour operator should follow the Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations and stay at least 50 yards from dolphins. They should also educate their customers about dolphins. We recommend riding the Bolivar ferry, as you can almost always see dolphins during the crossing, and it’s free!
How long do dolphins live?
Bottlenose dolphins have been known to live for up to 65 years in the wild. Average life span is considered to be 45-50 years.
What do dolphins eat?
Dolphins eat a variety of fish, crustaceans and invertebrates, depending on what is plentiful where they live. They often have a preference for “soniferous” fish – those that make sound – because it helps to find them in the water. In Galveston Bay, dolphins are known to eat striped mullet, spotted seatrout, hardhead catfish and white shrimp, among others (McDaniel, S. and Guillen, G.J. (2020). Foraging ecology of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Galveston Bay. Galveston Bay Estuary Program, State of the Bay Symposium, Galveston, TX. Poster.)
How can I become a volunteer?
GDRP trains community volunteers through our field assistant volunteer program. We have an outstanding group of volunteers so we are not currently recruiting more, but future opportunities will be posted on the website and in our newsletter. If you are interested in volunteering with GDRP, please fill out this volunteer interest form and we will contact you when opportunities become available.
How can I become a student intern?
Student interns are periodically recruited through the Environmental Institute of Houston and the Galveston Bay Foundation. Applicants are expected to have serious career goals in a relevant field (marine and environmental sciences and/or environmental and conservation education) and be available to dedicate a significant amount of time to working with the program. Keep an eye out for announcements or contact us for more information.
Can I report a dolphin sighting?
If you spend a lot of time in Galveston Bay boating or fishing, you have probably seen your fair share of dolphins and you may wonder if we want to know when you see dolphins and where. We do! In fact, we encourage you to complete our online sighting form. Although we are unable to use public sighting data for most of our analyses, these observations may help to identify unusual sighting locations and trends and will be part of our public opportunistic sighting database.
Dolphin sightings can also take place from land! There are many places on the Bay where you can see dolphins from land, such as docks, piers and jetties. Sightings from these locations are especially helpful to the research crew because they tend to be in locations we may not often access from the boat. So please keep an eye out and take note of the date, time, location and approximate number of dolphins when you see them!
If you encounter dolphins while boating, it is imperative that you follow dolphin-friendly viewing guidelines. You must stay at least 50 yards away from them, limit observation time to 30 minutes, and put your engine in neutral. Never try to swim with, chase, corral, tease, touch or grab wild dolphins! Please carefully read our Dolphin Safe Viewing Guide and share this information with your fellow boaters and fishers.