An Assessment of the Effectiveness of High Definition Cameras as Remote Monitoring Tools for Dolphin Ecology Studies.
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Research involving marine mammals often requires costly field programs. This paper assessed whether the benefits of using cameras outweighs the implications of having personnel performing marine mammal detection in the field. The efficacy of video and still cameras to detect Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the Fremantle Harbour (Western Australia) was evaluated, with consideration on how environmental conditions affect detectability. The cameras were set on a tower in the Fremantle Port channel and videos were perused at 1.75 times the normal speed. Images from the cameras were used to estimate position of dolphins at the water’s surface. Dolphin detections ranged from 5.6 m to 463.3 m for the video camera, and from 10.8 m to 347.8 m for the still camera. Detection range showed to be satisfactory when compared to distances at which dolphins would be detected by field observers. The relative effect of environmental conditions on detectability was considered by fitting a Generalised Estimation Equations (GEEs) model with Beaufort, level of glare and their interactions as predictors and a temporal auto-correlation structure. The best fit model indicated level of glare had an effect, with more intense periods of glare corresponding to lower occurrences of observed dolphins. However this effect was not large (-0.264) and the parameter estimate was associated with a large standard error (0.113).The limited field of view was the main restraint in that cameras can be only applied to detections of animals observed rather than counts of individuals. However, the use of cameras was effective for long term monitoring of occurrence of dolphins, outweighing the costs and reducing the health and safety risks to field personal. This study showed that cameras could be effectively implemented onshore for research such as studying changes in habitat use in response to development and construction activities.
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