GEELONGPORT has partnered with the Marine Mammal Foundation to help the Geelong community learn about a local species of endangered dolphins.

The port has announced it will help the foundation monitor the critically endangered Burrunan dolphins through a non-invasive method of recording sounds from marine mammals.

Recent surveys have revealed the dolphins live in Geelong’s Corio Bay, but there is limited data about the species.

GeelongPort and the Marine Mammal Foundation plan to gather data by using acoustic monitoring stations to “eavesdrop” on the dolphins 24 hours a day, even while researchers are not in the water.

The stations are also designed to assess the marine soundscape and determine whether other marine animals are using the area.

GeelongPort general manager of sustainability Lisa Mills said the partnership is an important opportunity to discover how Burrunan dolphins use Corio Bay as a regular habitat.

“Through our support of Marine Mammal Foundation’s research programs, GeelongPort hopes to ensure the Burrunan dolphins are better understood and protected for future generations to enjoy,” Dr Mills said.

Marine Mammal Foundation director Kate Robb said the foundation’s Project Burrunan is the only research program of its kind in Victoria.

“Limited boat-based surveys conducted in Corio Bay, coupled with citizen science reports, indicate this region is significant to the Burrunan dolphin,” Dr Robb said.  

“However, we have limited information on their regular presence in the area, much less their behaviours while using this habitat, such as foraging, resting and calving.

“By understanding how the dolphins are using Corio Bay we are able to establish the significance of the area for the dolphins, but also assess any impacts on the species.”

Dr Robb said it is not feasible for the foundation to be on the water across each of its study locations, which led it to explore a new method of detecting dolphin presence and marine soundscape assessment.

“It is incredibly exciting to hear for the first time how the Burrunan dolphins are using different areas on a 24-hour basis and enables a greater understanding of their movements, as well as highlight areas of high biological importance,” she said.

“We have been really excited that on each of our preliminary on-water surveys we have observed Burrunan dolphins in Corio Bay, with a fantastic sighting recently of a large mother-calf pod.

“From the images collected we will be able to identify each of the dolphins and match them against our extensive Burrunan dolphin fin identification catalogue.”

Dr Mills said outcomes from this project could help conserve Corio Bay’s small and threatened population.

“GeelongPort is pleased to help the foundation gain data on the rare Burrunan dolphins in Corio Bay and information that is critical to their existence.”

The Marine Mammal Foundation is a not-for-profit scientific organisation. It focuses on research, education and conservation.