THE 16th Port Stephens Annual Community Dolphin Census has confirmed the resident Bottle Nose Dolphin population is stable.
A total of 86 dolphin sightings were recorded during a one hour observation period last month.
Past studies conducted by Macquarie University estimate the Port Stephens dolphin population is approximately 90 individuals with up to 200 dolphins visiting from other areas around the coast.
Marine Parks Association Member Lisa Skelton said this year’s slightly lower count doesn’t indicate a declining population.
“We had lower participant numbers this year resulting in less shore coverage as well as poor weather conditions reducing visibility,” she said.
“We cannot expect to sight every dolphin in Port Stephens during the census period, which was completed in one hour of one day.”
The census enlisted the assistance 54 volunteers who were situated in 41 locations covering both the Hawks Nest and Tomaree sides of the bay.
Commercial boat operators and Marine Rescue were also involved and patrolled known dolphin ‘hotspots’ within the bay and offshore areas.
Ms Skelton said seventeen volunteers were from the Myall Coast area and ipncluded many who have participated in the census consistently during the past 16 years.
The areas covered locally included Pindimar Bay, North Arm Cove, Tea Gardens, Barnes Rocks, Jimmy’s Beach, Moira Parade and two locations along Bennetts Beach.
Ms Skelton said “nine dolphins were sighted off Barnes Rocks making it the second highest shore sighting during the census period.”
“A dolphin with her new calf, estimated to be about six weeks old, were also sighted,” she said.
Ms Skelton told News of the Area dolphin movements within the Port are influenced by tidal patterns, time of day and weather events.
“This year’s census was run during the same time frame as last year’s on a run out tide,” she said.
“The majority of sightings observed dolphins tracking east, likely to be following the tide.”
During the 16 year census period, dolphin sightings have ranged from 12 in 2011 to 194 in 2004.
The voluntary census is the longest running community dolphin count in Australia and directly supports dolphin conservation and studies conducted by research institutes.
By Daniel SAHYOUN