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Atlantic humpback dolphin research and conservation in the Saloum Delta, Senegal

Atlantic humpback dolphin research and conservation in the Saloum Delta, Senegal

In July 2021, a group of CCAHD team members started the first phase of implementation of a project entitled ‘Comprehensive Surveys of the Critically Endangered Atlantic Humpback Dolphin (Sousa teuszii) in the Saloum Delta (Senegal)’. This project is being funded by the Loro Parque Foundation, with additional support from the Friends of Nuremberg Zoo, who provided funding to support participation of scientists from neighbouring countries, Chelonia Ltd., who provided two Fpods for detecting dolphin vocalizations, and Ocean Instruments, who provided a SoundTrap 500, also for recording acoustic detections of dolphins. The project is hosted by the African Aquatic Conservation Fund (AACF).

Yandeh, Diana, Lucy, Adama and Gianna on the pier ready for a day of deploying acoustic recorders and searching for dolphins.

After months of planning, the team started fieldwork in the Saloum Delta on July 9th.  Ten consecutive days of boat surveys involved international experts, Senegalese and Gambian trainee scientists, and staff from the Delta Saloum National Park and Marine Protected Areas.  The study was designed to repeat the survey conducted by Caroline Weir in October – November 2015, during which she documented 30 groups of Atlantic humpback dolphins (AHD) over 3 weeks. In addition to documenting the dolphins’ distribution, the team aimed to collect photo-identification data, deploy acoustic equipment, and provide capacity building and awareness raising for local scientists and government agencies.

The SoundTrap and the FPod were deployed at a site where the dolphins were regularly seen by Weir in 2015 as well as by other observers in more recent years. AHD sightings during the survey were less frequent than in 2015. More surveys over the coming months and years will be required to determine whether this may reflect seasonal variation or is due to other factors.

Unfortunately, COVID numbers in Senegal started to rise dramatically as the survey progressed, and international team members had to leave after 2 weeks before the full survey could be completed. Senegal-based team members are completing the survey and will return in 6 weeks to recover the recorders.  The full team hopes to return to the Saloum Delta as soon as COVID and logistics allow to repeat the survey, continue with local and international capacity building, and conduct the community workshops that were planned as part of the Loro Parque funded project.  Stay tuned!

Group of Atlantic humpback dolphins in the Saloum Delta, Senegal.

The manager of one of the local Marine Protected Areas takes a salinity measurement while the adjunct director of the Delta Saloum National Park and the trainee scientist from African Aquatic Conservation Fund take notes on water parameters at one of our measuring stations.

Yandeh from the Gambia and Diana from the African Aquatic Conservation Fund (AACF- Senegal) download the day’s tracks from the GPS and process the day’s data.

Ready to photograph the dolphins. The survey was made possible with funding from the Loro Parque Foundation.