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Investigating the Bottlenose Dolphins in the Swan Canning Riverpark using two research methods: A comparison between citizen science and professional science

Wharton, Shona (2015) Investigating the Bottlenose Dolphins in the Swan Canning Riverpark using two research methods: A comparison between citizen science and professional science. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Since 2011 the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) community in the Swan Canning Riverpark in Perth, Western Australia has been studied simultaneously through a citizen science project (Dolphin Watch) and a professional science project (the Dolphin Population Assessment Project). The two projects share a common aim – to collect scientific information that supports the conservation of dolphins and their habitat – but use different methodologies.

This thesis examined how the two projects approach the study of a wildlife population and evaluated how citizen science and professional science projects can complement each other, leading to better outcomes than if one approach is applied in isolation.

Using the example of the Dolphin Watch and Dolphin Population Assessment Project; data over a one-year period was analysed. These projects ecological outcomes were assessed through: (1) quantity of sampling; (2) spatial and temporal distribution of dolphin sightings; and (3) dolphin group dynamics (group size/ sighting size). Additionally, the volunteer’s motivations and level of contribution was discussed in the context of Dolphin Watch. The main goal of this thesis was to investigate the extent of these projects’ ability to produce complementary ecological outcomes.

Firstly, Dolphin Watch collected a higher quantity of data than the Dolphin Population Assessment Project. Volunteers recorded a total of 2682.3 hours of sampling effort in contrast to the 64.2 hours recorded by professional scientists. Dolphin Watch volunteers recorded over 15 times more effort hours per zone than the professional scientists (Dolphin Watch = 81.28 hours/ zone; Dolphin Population Assessment Project = 5.35 hours/ zone). The higher quantity of data collected through Dolphin Watch was reflected throughout the study area and included the common monitoring zones (zones 20-31).

Data collected through Dolphin Watch was able to indicate the dolphin community in the Swan Canning Riverpark occupied all monitoring zones, which included approximately 58 kilometres of river ways. Dolphins were sighted in both the upstream Swan and Canning rivers and the downstream zones near Fremantle throughout the study period; this indicated that dolphins range throughout the Riverpark year-round. The Dolphin Population Assessment Project supported these findings by identifying the dolphin community exhibited characteristics of a resident population.

The two research projects recorded dolphin group dynamics in different ways that meant they were not directly comparable. The differences in data collection originate from the inability to uniformly identify dolphin group sizes using a specific criterion over multiple observers. Therefore, Dolphin Watch volunteers recorded the total number of dolphins within each sighting; whereas the Dolphin Population Assessment Project identified the group size based on the 100-metre chain rule.

Finally, this thesis identified examples of distinct differences between a citizen science and professional science project that studied the same dolphin community. This study supported the concept that ‘the type of research question asked will influence a project’s design’. Dolphin Watch and the Dolphin Population Project approached empirical research on the dolphin community differently; where their differences allowed them to complement each other and support each other’s claims.

Publication Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor: Bejder, Lars and Finn, Hugh
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/31435
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