New Humpback Dolphin study launch in Richards Bay

The new dolphin study is ready to run, thanks to Brett and Shanan Atkins who installed the camera and monitoring equipment over the weekend. Virtual viewers will be able to see the dolphins from their homes worldwide and report sightings Photo: Dave Savides

THE general public has the opportunity to participate in a new study on the interaction between Humpback Dolphins, humans and the shark nets at Newark beach in Richards Bay.

Even those thousands of kilometres away will be able to view these endangered creatures in this natural environment, and pass on their observations to the scientific team running the project.

First steps were made over the past long weekend when a high resolution video camera was installed overlooking the Alkantstrand beach area.

Live footage is streamed online, giving remote access to the panoramic view of the Humpback’s habitat and movements.

The assembly was done by Shanan and Brett Atkins, who were central to the original Humpback Dolphin study started in 1998, which reduced dolphin bycatch (accidental entanglement in shark nets) by 25% through the introduction of drum lines (baited hooks) in certain areas.

There are amazing sights to be seen – and with the new monitoring equipment, they can be viewed from anywhere in the world

‘In essence we plan to study the behaviour of endangered Humpback Dolphins near the Newark beach net (number 99), which is the net that catches the most Humpback Dolphins in KZN,’ says project leader Shanan, a Marine Biologist from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Science at the University of Witwatersrand.

‘The KZN Sharks Board would like to place the net in the best way to prevent Humpback Dolphin deaths without compromising bather protection.

‘We’ll be using the video camera to monitor their surface behaviour and an underwater microphone (hydrophone) to record their sounds.

Both were purchased by the Sharks Board.

‘We will also be monitoring the number of beach users because, in the long run, we are hoping to find a way to modernise protecting bathers from the risk of shark attack.’

Seeing an animal frolicking from your couch at home? This is the new reality with the systems that are being put into place at Richards Bay

The study will address three critical questions:

• How do dolphins use the area closest to the highest-catch net?

• Spatial and temporal data of dolphin presence, group size and activity will be gleaned through use of the video camera and underwater microphone;

• How do bathers use the beach this net protects?

Zones of preference for bathers and surfers will be verified, including seasonal and environmental variables.

Surveys will be conducted to assess knowledge and perceptions.

Main sponsors of the project include the Society for Dolphin Conservation, the German Foundation for Marine Conservation and Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

The team of collaborators includes project leader Shanan Atkins and Prof Neville Pillay (both Wits University), Geremy Cliff (KZN Sharks Board) and Pat Fletcher (EWT retired).

Other important stakeholders comprise the uMhlathuze Municipality and its lifesavers, and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Dear Dolphin Conservationist:

You can visit the Richards Bay beach virtually and help us search for dolphins using the EZVIZ app.

Download on the App store or Get it on Google Play www.ezvizlife.com/appdownload

Username: rb_dolphin_watch

Password: RB2017

The first time you log in you will need the device password BUVUHN.

Zoomed in, the footage quality is not always as good as what we are accustomed to on our TVs, but we are limited by the mobile data connection at the beach and by data costs.

If you see a dolphin while you’re looking, it’d help us a lot if you email us the exact time/send a screenshot.

We’re still figuring this all out and will expand our communication channels, but for now you can communicate with us via email: iknowthatdolphin@gmail.com.

We welcome your feedback!

Shanan & Brett

 

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  AUTHOR
Dave Savides
Editor

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