Studying wild dolphins is challenging as much of their activities and interactions take place underwater in the open sea. A study that involved attaching non-invasive cameras to them has yielded much information about their behaviour.
More than 535 minutes of footage depicting rarely-seen activities of wild dolphins were captured off New Zealand, in a world-first study involving researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Alaska Southeast.
The cameras were attached via suction cups to eight wild dusky dolphins, deployed using a long pole with the aid of Velcro pads. The footage, captured off the coast of New Zealand, ran from December 2015 and January 2016.
“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 Dr Peter Jones from the University of Sydney's School of Electrical and Information Engineering.
The successful deployment of the cameras allowed the researchers to observe rarely-seen activities as mother-calf interaction, dolphins playing with kelp, and social behaviour like flipper-rubbing.
According to dolphin specialist Heidi Pearson, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Southeast, “From the surface, researchers can only see about 10 percent of what is going on in an animal's life. With these video cameras, we can 'see' from the animals' perspective and begin to understand the challenges they face as they move throughout their habitat.”
She added that the research has great potential for protecting endangered species by giving scientists a much higher resolution of information than is possible than with other methods.
The researchers intend to further develop the cameras for use on other marine creatures like other cetacean species and sharks.