New cameras reveal daily lives of dolphins

"This research opens up a whole new approach for capturing wild animal behavior," said researcher Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska.
By Brooks Hays  |  Feb. 21, 2017 at 1:06 PM
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Feb. 21 (UPI) -- An array of non-invasive cameras installed on a group of wild dolphins have yielded 535 minutes of groundbreaking video, offering scientists an unprecedented glimpse of daily dolphin life.

"For the first time, these cameras have given us the opportunity to see what dolphins do on their own terms," Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska, a researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a news release.

Scientists described the details of the novel footage in a new paper, published this week in the journal Marine Biology. Analysis of the video revealed rarely-seen behaviors, including mother-calf bonding, kelp recreation and flipper rubbing, an intimate social behavior.

"There were no wildlife crews, no invasive underwater housings -- and the dolphins remained largely unaffected by our cameras," Machovsky-Capuska explained. "This research opens up a whole new approach for capturing wild animal behavior, which will ultimately help us to not only advance conservation efforts but also come closer to understanding wild predators' and human nutrition too."

Researchers deployed the cameras using long poles and velcro. The cameras were attached to the dolphins by suction cups. The researchers successfully tagged eight wild dusky dolphins off the coast of New Zealand.

Each camera boasted a battery life of six hours. Expansive memory boards allowed the cameras to record large bits of footage and beam them back to the receivers via satellites. Scientists hope their efforts can be improved and replicated to study other marine wildlife.

"One challenge of doing this research on small and fast animals like dusky dolphins is that there is limited surface area on the dolphin's body for tag attachment, so there's only a small window of time to actually deploy the tag as the dolphin swims past," said Peter Jones, a researcher at the University of Sydney's School of Electrical and Information Engineering. "We have much to learn about animal behavior and systems such as this are a great way to observe their activity in a natural environment with the least likely influence on that behavior."

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