New study reveals how the heat wave hit the Sharks Bay dolphins


The global significance of this piece of seagrass and its potential role in combating climate change was also highlighted in the recent study by David Attenborough. Blue planet TV series, with producers visiting Shark Bay to film an episode.

But Monday's research also revealed how the loss of prairies from seagrass and fish communities has impacted calf survival rates based on 10-year long-term data from 2007.


The article, a collaboration among international researchers, studied more than 5,000 dolphin encounters in the area and showed that along with a decline in dolphin survival rates, there was also a decline in the number of calves born to females, which continued after the wave heat up to 2017.

Senior author Simon Allen of the Bristol School of Life Sciences said the findings suggest that extreme weather events such as the 2011 heat wave may be sudden or disturbing even for highly adaptable animals such as dolphins.

"We're still seeing the recovery of seagrass meadows or fish stocks and now we find negative impacts on dolphins in just one event," Allen said.

"Given that marine heat waves are occurring more often in association with climate change, this raises serious concerns about the long-term prospects for the dolphin population, commercial fisheries and the ecosystem as a whole."

A dolphin in Shark Bay uses a sponge as a forage tool.

A dolphin in Shark Bay uses a sponge as a forage tool. Credit:Simon Allen

Researchers believe that the loss of food availability and habitat prevented fish stocks from rebounding to preheating levels, which had a flowing effect when dolphins spent more time searching for food.

This, in turn, reduced dolphin vigilance in protecting their offspring, resulting in more sharks successfully attacking calves.

Researchers also suggest that reduced food availability could have led to increased mortality when the nutritional needs of the mother and calf could not be sustained.

However, among the bad news was an interesting titbit. Researchers observed that dolphins that used marine sponges as a fodder tool – a technique learned, developed to help find food in deeper channels – fared better than those who did not.

Lead author Sonja Wild said the falls were a "stark reminder" of the impacts of climate change and showed the broad spectrum effects of maritime heat waves.


Cameron is the homepage editor for WAtoday.

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