Alumna’s undergraduate research on spinner dolphins published

Could better educational signage reduce the disturbance of spinner dolphins in protected bays along Hawaii’s west coast? A research team from Oglethorpe thinks so.

Alex Prots ’20, now an assistant instructor of genetics at Oglethorpe, was among the authors of a recently published article highlighting the team’s findings. Prots participated in the unique research opportunity during her time as an undergraduate biology student. At many institutions, this type of involvement is reserved for graduate-level students. Prots’ research interest originated from a field study in Hawaii, led by the Oglethorpe biology department every other year.

Prots and others found that protected bays in Hawaii have become increasingly popular destinations for tourists and recreation. However, spinner dolphins also inhabit these protected areas, using them as resting spots. This combination has led to more frequent human-wildlife interactions, providing a possible explanation for declining dolphin populations in these coves. While regulations protect wildlife from human interaction, the remote nature of these habitats often results in less enforcement of such laws. Additionally, little to no signage warning visitors of unlawful activity exists in the area.

The published findings suggest that the public is often unaware of regulations and protections in place. The research proposes that greater investment in educating visitors, primarily through signage, could lead to a decrease in illegal activity and better protect spinner dolphins.

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