The aim of marine mammal research is to develop progressive knowledge and understanding of their biology, adaptations, behavior and ecology, which will lead to better protection of species and their habitats, contributing to biodiversity in such a way that a sustainable use of the sea becomes possible. Furthermore, such research strives to understand how we affect their lives and how we can gain from them, e.g. through tourism.
If you understand dolphin echolocation and how it works, then you have the tools to apply that knowledge. If you are a conservationist and are concerned about dolphin entanglement in nets, the knowledge allows you to build better fishing nets that will not harm them. The application of the knowledge depends on what you value: for an academic, to further knowledge and understanding; for an applied researcher, to be able to provide information to managers on the implications of a range of management options, for a conservation biologist: to find ways of ensuring the health of populations.
In the end, all this will contribute to a better understanding of the impact we have on our planet. You can’t have seven billion people growing and running around on a planet without having some major impacts. Right now we are making choices we don’t even understand; better to make an informed choice don’t you think?
There are various tools that can be used to achieve this goal, including expanding the knowledge base through biological inventories, research, monitoring, training of professionals, planning (environmental impact assessment), action plans and integrated area management, regulating threats to marine species and ecosystems, establishing protected areas, and ensuring active involvement of citizens in government decision making. Public education is very important in all conservation efforts.
Most of science consists of answering very small questions. Each one may not have much value in and of itself, but when the whole picture is to be seen, each of the many small pixels of knowledge will be required. So in the long term, we can expect to truly understand some of the things that are affecting cetaceans and their behavior. In the short term, however, one cannot expect too much. Important results in this field are usually gained through long-term research, which will then constitute the wisdom and the power to make the best possible decisions about the future. Research aimed only at solving a specific, well-understood short-term problem is not going to provide us with the answers we need ten or twenty years from now. We need to commit some fraction of our resources, our dollars, to basic science, understanding that it is a risk-taking investment; not all science hunches pay off, but when they pay off, they pay off big. And this investment of resources should not be done because it is `en vogue’ to be concerned about the animals, the oceans and the planet, but because it is intellectually and morally the correct thing to do. By better understanding one group of marine creatures, with which we compete for resources – prey and habitat -, we may be able to better manage our affairs on this planet.
In sum, excellent research provides several results: Firstly, it leads to a deeper understanding of the world and its basic mechanisms of function, or in other words, an increased appreciation of the world in which we live. Secondly, it provides a baseline of data against which we can measure changes and information that can be put to practical use, thus reducing our impact on these animals and their environment. And third, the advancement of knowledge usually entrains an increase in public awareness and then support from the general public, which is a crucial determinant for maintaining biodiversity, the survival of the variety of species and their habitats and a wise resource use by man.
We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world. Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective. The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.