Local dolphin research partnership begins


By Abby Weingarten
The Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP)—which conducts the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population—formally partnered with New College in late June to expand its research and education initiatives.
Based at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, the SDRP has been studying Sarasota Bay’s dolphins since 1970 (and New College scientists have studied the animals and ecology of the bay since 1960). Together, both organizations can now enhance their conservation efforts, undergraduate and graduate student learning opportunities, and ongoing projects on dolphin communication and bioacoustics.
“We are very excited about expanding our network of collaborating institutions to include New College—to make more effective use of our unique opportunities to learn about, and benefit, the dolphins and ecology of Sarasota Bay,” said Randall Wells, Ph.D., the director of the SDRP, which has provided training opportunities for more than 430 undergraduate interns and 80 graduate students. “New College is a natural match for complementing our program’s academic and research activities.”
The SDRP and New College will continue to develop the Passive Acoustic Listening Station (PALS) network—an area collective of biologists, engineers, educators and citizens who explore the underwater acoustic environment of Sarasota Bay. PALS researchers use their networks to better understand the ecological dynamics of the bay and the behavior of its animals, such as sound-producing fish, dolphins and manatees. And the researchers have documented the state of the bay before, during, and after a pronounced period of red tide.
Multiple New College faculty members are PALS researchers, including Athena Rycyk, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology and marine science; and Jayne Gardiner, Ph.D., associate professor of biology. Also, Austin Anderson (a recent New College data science graduate student) used dolphin whistle data from the PALS network for his thesis research, and he continues to be involved in the project.
“Throughout my professional career, I’ve benefited from the data that the SDRP provides about wild dolphins. And since I’ve been at New College, my students and I have enjoyed many productive interactions with the scientists who’ve come from all over the world to study our bay’s dolphins,” said Heidi Harley, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, a dolphin behavior and cognition expert, and the co-director of New College’s Environmental Studies Program. “It’s wonderful to have a more formal relationship between our organizations as the SDRP celebrates their 50th year and New College works to grow our capacity.”
New College will sponsor a public symposium for the SDRP’s 50th anniversary from noon to 6:30 p.m. Sat. Oct. 3 at the Harry Sudakoff Conference Center. The symposium will feature presentations by the program’s founders (including Wells), as well as Harley and a number of marine mammal experts.
For information on the event and ticketing, contact Leslie Townsend at ltownsend@ncf.edu.
For more information on the SDRP, visit sarasotadolphin.org. 
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.


Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is the state's only legislatively designated Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in liberal arts and sciences, a master’s degree program in data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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