Monkey Mia

Dolphin Research in Shark Bay

The bottlenose dolphins of Monkey Mia and the Shark Bay region have been studied since 1982. Findings by the international team of researchers have contributed to the understanding of dolphins worldwide. Check out our fact sheet to learn more about bottlenose dolphins!

A window to dolphin society

Dolphin behaviour, ecology, genetics, development, communication, social structure, predators and prey are all studied at Monkey Mia. It is one of the most important dolphin research sites in the world.
  • Much of what people know about bottlenose dolphin behaviour and social relationships comes from research conducted in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.
  • Many ground-breaking discoveries have been made, including the revelation that male dolphins form complex, multi-layered alliances (or ‘gangs’) like those of human males, but unlike those of any other animal.
  • Researchers have also discovered that some females use tools while foraging, a skill they teach to their calves. Shark Bay is the only place in the world where wild dolphins have been observed using tools.
Watch a video of this amazing behaviour here (50sec)!
Dolphin sponge feeding video link
Other research projects study dolphin reproduction, calf development, foraging strategies and interactions between sharks and dolphins. All research is conducted without capturing or tagging the dolphins.

Knowledge as a force in conservation

Research conducted in Shark Bay has played a direct role in the protection and conservation of dolphins locally and internationally. It has been particularly useful in reducing human impacts on dolphins.
  • Insight into dolphins’ intellectual and emotional lives has heightened awareness of the need to protect the welfare of individual dolphins, as well as their habitat.
  • Research has influenced the management of dolphin-focused tourism. For example, the discovery that provisioning (feeding) wild dolphins can lead to a decline in foraging techniques – even starvation – led the Department of Environment and Conservation to change its feeding policies. Learn more about the DEC’s dolphin management here.
  • Research on the impact of aquaculture on dolphin ranging and behaviour has helped limit the expansion of aquaculture in Shark Bay, benefiting dolphins and other marine species. These findings are also influencing aquaculture management in other parts of Australia, and in New Zealand.
For more information about dolphin research in the Shark Bay World Heritage area, go to the Dolphins of Monkey Mia Research Foundation site. You can find research papers about other scientific studies here.