Marlborough base for vital dolphin study

04:00, May 01 2012

A study on the habits of some of the rarest dolphins in the world will highlight any impact of human developments on marine life in the Marlborough Sounds.

Massey University PhD student Cheryl Cross will study the number of dolphins in the Sounds, including Hector's, bottlenose, and dusky dolphins, and their habits, during the next three years with help from Dolphin Watch and Beachcomber Cruises.

Ms Cross said the results could be used to determine the potential impacts of building, pollution and the growth of commercial tourism on dolphins in the Sounds.

"We need to get this baseline study done so we can look at how developments are affecting the different species.

"Hector's, bottlenose dolphins and orca are all endangered," she said. "A lot of people in New Zealand and around the world feel very connected to the dolphins and want to protect them, but we need to know as much as we can about them to do that."

Hector's dolphins are unique to the sea surrounding the South Island and there are only about 7200 left.

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Ms Cross will closely monitor how the dolphins interact with their habitat to understand why they choose to go where they go and what seasonal shifts occur.

The frequency of the dolphins will give a strong indication as to how the species are adapting to changes in their environment.

"I'll be out on the boats, recording where we see them, when, and how their patterns change over time."

Originally from Miami, Florida, in the United States, Ms Cross said she became very interested in animals from a young age, starting with trips to the beach with her family.

She has completed a master's degree in marine biology.

"I just had this fascination with marine life and it grew from there.

"It's been a big change coming from Miami to Picton, and I've been busy with work since I got here [in November], but I'm going to start settling in."

Dolphin Watch co-owner Glen McNeilly said the organisation was happy to support her research and guaranteed her a seat on any of their cruises.

"The work she's doing is a benefit not just for the dolphins, but for everyone in the area who enjoys them," Mr McNeilly told the Marlborough Express.

It was hoped that other boat-owners might consider helping Ms Cross conduct her research during the winter period, when tourist cruise numbers in Marlborough dwindled.

The Marlborough Express