Mote Marine Laboratory and Chicago Zoological Society Receive Top Honors in Conservation for Longest-Running Dolphin Study Program
The dolphins of Sarasota Bay are at the heart of 40 years of study and Mote Marine Lab’s Dr. Randall Wells is the backbone. In partnership with Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium have been recognized for their efforts, earning top honors in the 2010 North American Conservation Award category from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“The Chicago Zoological Society and Mote Marine Laboratory are taking the lead in North American conservation,” said Jim Maddy, AZA president and CEO. “Conservation is a high priority of the two institutions, as well as all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, and this award provides well-deserved national recognition for this important endeavor.”
As it turns 40 this month, The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is a field program of the Chicago Zoological Society’s Dolphin Research & Conservation Institute (DRCI). As the longest running study of wild dolphin, the program offers an extensive knowledge base from which scientists can work. It is also a respected and much sought-after training ground for future scientists and conservationists.
The 160 bottlenose dolphins living year round in the “natural laboratory of Sarasota Bay” offer more than five generations of data, information, photos and knowledge. This baseline set of standards can help scientists in a range of situations, including it’s current focus on characterizing and mitigating human impacts on dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, such as ingestion or entanglement with fishing gear, vessel strikes, environmental contaminants and coastal development.
The recent Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill tragedy is among those issues. The program will allow scientists to compare their extensive 40 years of baseline information against the long-term issues and effects seen and caused by the spill. “We study these dolphins through their lives, from the day they are born until after they die,” said Wells. “We have a unique understanding of how they are affected by changes in their environment, both natural and manmade.”
Based at Mote since 1970, the program is led by Dr. Wells, senior conservation scientist for CZS.
“Randy Wells has studied the dolphins of Sarasota Bay since he was a volunteer at Mote during his high school years. His dedication is a key part of the program’s legacy, and he is now one of the world’s most respected dolphin biologists,” said Dr. Kumar Mahadevan, president of Mote. “Today, our colleagues from around the globe come to learn the techniques his team has pioneered.”
Wells and his staff recognize each of Sarasota Bay’s dolphins by taking photos of their dorsal fins, which have unique nicks and notches that function like fingerprints. Program scientists monitor individual dolphins through monthly photo ID surveys, health assessment, behavioral observations, and other techniques.
“The heart and soul of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program are the people who work with the DRCI—the dedicated staff and students, long-term partners, and collaborators from around the world who produce these one-of-a-kind scientific studies, datasets, training opportunities, and conservation outcomes,” said Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society.
Assistant Laura & I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Wells speak and meet him during a presentation and behind-the-scenes tour at Brookfield Zoo, (CZS) Chicago, IL several years back. It was an honor hearing such an acknowledged, world renowned professional speak, and a thrill to meet him.
Regular readers will know of my love of our Gulf, marine life and dolphins, and are hardly surprised when I say it was truly a thrill to meet Dr. Wells. It is our hope that we will be able to visit Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium in Sarasota, and share it with you.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aqurium
1600 Ken Thompson Parkway
Sarasota, FL 34236
Brookfield Zoo – Chicago Zoological Society
3300 Golf Road
Brookfield, IL 60513