Scientists seek ‘dolphin-eye view’ off Kaikōura coast

Australian scientists have contributed to a world-first study using cameras mounted on wild dolphins off the coast of Kaikōura in New Zealand.

The result is 10 hours of vision showing the rarely seen activities of dolphins in the wild, including the mammals playing with kelp and interacting with their young.

Research engineer at the University of Sydney, Peter Jones, developed the custom-made cameras. They were placed on the animals in December and January this year using suction cups.

The devices were made to fall off the mammals, and contained a radio transmitter to allow researchers to retrieve them and get a “dolphin-eye view” from beneath the waves.

“There are no camera crews,” Mr Jones said.

“There are no boats around the animals. We can have the confidence that they’re being a bit more natural in their behaviour.”

The international team involved researchers from the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney and the University of Alaska Southeast. Their study has published in the journal Marine Biology.

Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska, from the University of Sydney, said understanding the behaviour of wild dolphins was challenging because the mammals spent 90 percent of their time underwater.

But she said so far, the results had been promising.

“We try to understand some social patterns,” Dr Machovsky-Capuska said.

“Behaviours between mother and calf. Behaviours between the individual and the group.”

Dr Machovsky-Capuska said marine predators like dolphins were “biomonitors” of the marine environment, and their feeding patterns could provide vital clues about ocean health.

The technology is being refined in a separate project to develop ‘shark cams’ to monitor shark behaviour off the New South Wales coast.

“Our goal is to try to understand what they do in the wild, from their own perspective and in their own ways, without interfering with them,” Dr Machovsky-Capuska said.

The plan is to use the ‘shark cam’ to better understand potentially dangerous predators when they are close to shore and might interact with humans.

Watch video footage of the dolphins here.