What has Denise Herzing learned in decades of observation of two species of dolphins inhabiting a single Bahamas study area? For one, the importance of individuality. “Dolphin society is only as resilient as its diversity of individuals, perhaps yet another lesson for humans,” Herzing says. For her work as founder and research director of the Wild Dolphin Project (wilddolphinproject .org), Herzing is our July issue Sea Hero.
Q: The Wild Dolphin Project is the longest-running underwater study of dolphins in the wild; what insights does that long view afford?
A: Studying their society and communication signals is enhanced by having a social context. Knowing whether dolphins are male or female, who they are related to, and what their personalities are helps us understand the intricacies of their aquatic culture.
Q: The ocean has changed greatly during your study; have those changes had an impact on the study?
A: I have observed this free-ranging community of dolphins every summer since 1985 on Little Bahama Bank. In 2004 and 2005, our study area was the bull’s-eye for two hurricanes; afterward, we documented a loss of 30 percent of both Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins. This was a devastating event for them; we watched as they altered their social behavior and patterns for four years until they finally stabilized.
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