A day in the life of a Peel-Harvey dolphin researcher

Playful: One of the Peel-Harvey dolphins researcher Krista Nicholson spends so much time looking for and studying. Photo: supplied.
Playful: One of the Peel-Harvey dolphins researcher Krista Nicholson spends so much time looking for and studying. Photo: supplied.

People often ask me what a typical day is like for a dolphin researcher.

Our time is divided between working on water and in the office.

A boat day usually commences at sunrise, or even before.

We follow predetermined routes, called transects, in the Peel-Harvey estuary and in coastal waters.

On transect, each team member is allocated a search section they will look for dolphins in.

Once someone spots a group of dolphins we break off from transect and proceed to record the location, behaviour and group composition of the observed dolphins.

We also photograph each dolphins’ unique dorsal fin for later identification.

We stay with a group of dolphins anywhere between five minutes to an hour, typically around 15 minutes to complete the data collection.

We then return to transect and continue searching for the next group of dolphins.

All our work is conducted from the boat by recording observations and taking photographs.

Our work is very much weather dependent.

When conditions allow, we return to the boat ramp only at sunset.

After this we download all the data collected, clean equipment and prepare for the next boat day.

This means a working day when we go on the boat can be up to 15 hours long, and there can be multiple days like this in a row.

In 2016 and 2017 we spent 222 days, or part thereof, equating to more than 1000 hours on water.

The majority of this time was not spent with dolphins, but searching for them.

When we are not on the boat we spend time identify individuals we have sighted, processing and analysing collected data, reading topical literature and writing about our findings.

Although a career in dolphin research is very rewarding, it is also hard work with long hours on water and in the office.

For anyone interested in pursuing this line of work, I would really recommend you study hard at school, especially in the areas of science, mathematics and English.