Sailors in Belize often have encounters with dolphins. But if you asked a scientists how many dolphins are in Belize and what kind, the answer would be, “We don’t know.” It is hard to believe, but up until now, there has been no systematic study on population data of cetaceans (marine mammals like whales and dolphins) in the offshore waters of Belize. Hello Ocean changed that by launching Expedition Underway. During our seven-day expedition we helped Eric Ramos launch the first systematic study of cetaceans in the coastal and offshore waters of Belize as well as collected data to support an ongoing study by 5 Gyres on marine debris. The goal of our survey – to identify and count all the debris and marine mammals within our visible area along a specific transect, and collect tissue samples.
“The skin and tissue samples are used to gather baseline genetic information as well as measure toxin levels. Because dolphins and whales are top predators in the food chain, they accumulate a lot of toxins and contaminants. Measuring the concentration of these contaminants in dolphins and whales is a good indication of the status of the ecosystem in general”, explained Nataly. “It will help us determine if these individuals here in Belize at more risk than other populations and be able to advocate for their protection in an area that doesn’t have it yet,” added Eric.
We spent 5 days in the deep waters of Belize flying drones for aerial observations, deplying hydrophones to listen to the dolphin communications and taking thousands of photos to create photo ID’s of each individual dolphin. Each one has a distinct fin shape or scars that are similar to our finger prints and can provide unique identification! Amazing.
The Moorings catamaran, worked out magically. We found it to be the ideal platform for scientific research; stable, plenty of storage for our gear, and comfortable.
Our data will be published by our lead scientists Eric and Nataly in the coming months, and we will be producing a video about the expedition, so keep your eyes out for that.