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UNF professor to discuss environmental impact on bottlenose dolphins

Dr. Quincy Gibson, a marine mammal biologist and research scientist at UNF, has really gotten her feet wet in marine mammal research.

She’s conducted a variety of marine mammal research projects in her lifetime. Her work has included human and vessel impact studies on spinner dolphins and humpback whales in the Hawaiian Islands, a developmental study of captive dolphin calves in Florida, and investigations of population dynamics and migratory pathways of humpback whales in Australia and Ecuador.

Her marine life expertise led her to plan a free public seminar called “Growing Up in Jacksonville: Potential Effects of a Metropolitan Environment on the Social Lives of Bottlenose Dolphins,” which will take place April 14 at 7 p.m. at the University Center.

“I’ve wanted to work with dolphins — in some capacity — for as long as I can remember,” Gibson said.

She got the opportunity to study marine ecology in high school, Gibson said, spending a summer in the Bahamas to conduct her studies.

“That experience solidified my desire to become a marine mammalogist,” she said.

Gibson’s seminar will target coastal species of bottlenose dolphins, particularly those that live in river and estuarine environments. She said they are at a potentially high risk of human impact simply because they live in close proximity to human activities.

Pollution — including chemicals, plastics and noise — and habit degradation from coastal development and boat traffic are two major issues affecting bottlenose dolphins worldwide, Gibson said.

“Entanglement in fishing gear is also becoming an increasing problem,” she said.

A high level of boat traffic in Jacksonville may reduce the amount of time the dolphins spend resting. This leads to higher stress levels that can further lead to increased aggression. Gibson’s seminar will address these issues and how urbanization affects bottlenose dolphins locally and internationally.

Gibson’s area of expertise is social development. She conducted her dissertation research on the dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia, a relatively pristine natural environment. She will take what she learned from examining dolphins in different environments and research whether Jacksonville’s metropolitan lifestyle affects the social life and development of bottlenose dolphins in the area.

Gibson is working with Dr. Julie Richmond, assistant professor of biology, to develop an interdisciplinary marine mammal research program that ties physiology and behavioral ecology together, with an emphasis on mothers and calves.

Richmond said she conducted marine mammal research for the past 13 years. As an undergraduate, she studied how marine mammals fast or go without food for extended periods of time. She also studied diving physiology and the unique adaptations marine mammals have for diving in Alaska. Her PhD research investigated the role of hormones in growth, development, and survival of young marine mammals.

“Dr. Gibson is an exceptional research scientist,” Richmond said. “She has been involved with many extraordinary research projects and has brought a vast diversity of experience to our department.”

Together, the two professors are conducting boat-based photo-identification and behavioral surveys of bottlenose dolphins in the Jacksonville area.

PULL OUT BOX: How to do your part:

Most importantly, make a conscious effort to reduce waste and pollution.

Trash and chemicals that aren’t disposed of properly often make their way into the ocean.

Be aware of your actions and how they may affect your surroundings. For example, choose reusable or biodegradable products when possible.

Educate yourself and others about conservation issues — for example, if your family or friends go out fishing, explain the importance of not leaving broken lines behind in the water.

If you’re out on the water and see a group of dolphins, respect their space. Keep your distance, move at a safe speed, and don’t make sudden changes in direction.

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