Shark Bay, Australia has become the permanent habitat of Richard Connor, who has been residing and studying the region and its idiosyncrasies for close to 4 decades now. His forte is dolphin research and today hold the highest distinction, knowledge wise on Dolphins in the world.
Connor, originally from the US, came to Monkey Mia settlement to get acquainted with the wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins that visited to be hand fed. Where 37 years ago he started as an amateur with nothing but passion for the study and a rudimentary at best set up, today Connor has a team of colleagues with the most advanced tools and apparatus. His love and intrigue for the creature has only grown to great heights since then.
Professor Connor, of the University of Massachusetts is enamored by dolphins and finds the Shark Bay dolphin civilization a distinct examination of the “most complex non- human society on the planet”.
Connor observed that Monkey Mia dolphins, much like their human counterparts, formed alliances. A discovery that both shocked and beguiled him. Shark Bay dolphins have mates, forming pack like groups ranging between 3 to 14 in number among male dolphins. And they stay mates for 20 years. another interesting aspect of behavior, resembling humans, is, this 3- 4 ganged up mates coerce female dolphins to stay with them which can also lead to “man-handling”, if necessary. Their lives under the sea are as complex a social network as we survive everyday on land among our kind.
Not only did Connor study their complexities which is unlike any other dolphin species around the world, but also tried to find out what is the reason for their distinctly human behavior. The answer is the food. “Shark Bay is a marine biologist’s paradise. You’ve got the largest seagrass beds in the world and that supports a lot of life. The complexity we see out there could be simplified as: if you run into your enemies, you’d better be with your friends,” Professor Connor said.
Among Connor’s other discoveries is that, each dolphin was unique in demeanor, there was also prevalent generational gaps in food and feeding habits. Professor Connor’s and others’ discoveries prompted the creation of a group of mostly international scientists, who have come together to form the Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance.
Professor Connor and his colleagues at the Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance on a quest to gather enough resources to launch the Dolphin Decade — the world’s most ambitious dolphin study project.
The group aims to undertake a multi-disciplinary research program into many different aspects of dolphin behavior at once. But the greatest challenge and fear to their project is the deteriorating population of this complex creature. Their numbers were badly affected by the 2010-2011 heatwave that killed a large portion of its seagrass.