Cathy Hinds, a Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB) student on placement at the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has just been awarded runner up in the 2015 National Student Awards from the P1 Marine Foundation.
Cathy’s unique project involves using social media as an untapped resource for a photo-identification study of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus around the coast of Northern Ireland and Donegal.
For marine mammals, photo-identification is an extremely useful tool as it allows experts to assess the population dynamics and social structure, with specific reference to site fidelity (whether or not specific individuals are returning to our coast), preferred habitats and migratory routes. Social media and photo sharing sites are fast becoming popular channels for the general public to ‘post’ images of encountered cetaceans, providing a virtually cost-free link between scientists and the general public.
Bottlenose dolphins are the second most commonly encountered cetacean in Northern Irish waters and Cathy is using images found on social media and comparing these to existing photo-identification catalogues from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch and the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre to investigate the site fidelity and social structure of this species around our coastline. She will attend the National Student Awards Ceremony in February to showcase her research to an invited audience including representatives of related charities, businesses and leading academics. Cathy hopes to use her prize money of £500 to attend the 30th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society at Funchal, Madeira from 14 - 16 March 2016.