Dolphins in St. Johns River focus of UNF study
Researcher: 'Healthy dolphins is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem'
Dolphins in the St. Johns River are the focus of a major University of North Florida biological study.
"We're trying to document the areas that may be important for mating and socializing and foraging," said Quincy Gibson, a UNF research scientist. "So we're documenting where the dolphins are found and how they are using the river."
Gibson said the river's dolphins haven't been studied in more than two decades, and even that was incomplete. So far, her study has already identified about 300 different dolphins.
It was originally thought dolphins didn't swim any further upriver than the Dames Point Bridge. Now researchers know they go past downtown Jacksonville.
Aside from being nice to look at, their presence is also good news for the river.
SLIDESHOW: Dolphins thriving in St. Johns River
"They eat a lot of the same things we do, so they're good indicators of how the healthy the ecosystem is," Gibson said.
Students of UNF's coastal biology program experience it all. A weekly eight-hour boat ride is a floating lab credit.
"I like seeing all the dolphins, all their different behaviors, things like that," UNF student Alicia Dunn said. "It's definitely been a really good learning experience."
Gibson has studied the animals all over the world, but she said northeast Florida's are unique because they have huge social groups, strong male alliances and interesting interactions with babies.
She said it's fascinating, and for the river, it's functional.
"Healthy dolphins is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem," Gibson said.
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