Dear Wildcoast Community Members,
My name is Michelle Caputo and I am a PhD student at Rhodes University studying dolphins along the Wildcoast of the Eastern Cape. I am writing to you as interested parties to give you a bit more information on what we are up to and to ask for your help and participation, where possible!
As some of you will know, there has been very little research to date on dolphins and whales in your area, with just a few aerial surveys from the 1980s. Animals from Algoa Bay and from KZN have been studied to a larger extent, which leaves a large gap in our understanding of animal movement and residency along this coast. My PhD project is focused on closing the gap and determining connectivity between EC and KZN animals, and the importance of the Wildcoast in their ecology. Together with staff from the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Authority, I'll be out in your area in February, June, and November for the next three years doing biopsy sampling and distribution studies on dolphin species. Biopsy allows us to take a small skin and blubber sample from the animals, which we use to look at genetics and prey of dolphins. We use photographic identification to match animals, as the dorsal fin is like a finger print.
Given the lack of knowledge of the area, community members like you are incredibly important to our research as you are our “eyes on the ground”! We are developing a sightings "App" for smart phones, so that tourists and community members can log their dolphin and whale sightings opportunistically (ie. if you notice animals in the area - not a dedicated watch). For now we have a Facebook (Wildcoast Living Laboratory - https://www.facebook.com/WildcoastLL), and a sightings form (attached here) that can be used if you see these animals. Alternatively, I am always available at this email address if you would like to send me your sightings information directly. By collating this info I can begin to develop a better understanding of when these animals are along the Wildcoast and in which areas - this in turn will help me focus my research.
I have attached a dolphin and whale ID guide to help where needed, but additional info such as: size of group (small, medium, large) and distance to shore (inshore, nearshore, or offshore) are very useful in determining species.
If you are interested in participating and/or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me! I can also send a copy of our poster to interested parties for public display. I will be sending out updates and keeping in touch with those who are interested. Any ideas and suggestions are always appreciated - as well as questions, concerns, etc.
Thank you for your participation,