Mapping dolphin distribution using Citizen Science

What is the E3C project?


Author: Tevya Lotriet- MSc Student, University of Pretoria and Sea Search Africa

Globally, at least one quarter of cetacean (whale and dolphin) species have been listed as endangered, and this figure may worsen as the status of many more remains unknown. Due to the wide range of oceanographic conditions around our coast, South Africa has one of the most diverse assemblages of cetacean species of any country in the world. But due to the large and fairly isolated coastline and small number of researchers, our dolphins are relatively understudied.Trying to study the behaviour and movements of these highly mobile animals is challenging, costly and logistically almost impossible for a single group of researchers to achieve.

The distributions of animals are often related to environmental variables such as surface temperatures, salinity, and bathymetry. Understanding the relationship between dolphin presence and these basic environmental factors is a fundamental step in understanding their ecological relationships within the environment, and predicting likely responses to change. Our oceans are being affected by climate change and recent research has shown the potential impacts on cetaceans globally. With the E3C – Effect of Climate Change on Cetaceans project, we are investigating the potential impacts that climate change could have on our local cetacean species.

3The Sea Search team needs help to achieve this, and we are trying to harness the power of citizen scientists to assist us in studying the distribution of dolphins and whales in the south western Cape of South Africa.

‘Citizen scientists’ are members of the public who are keen to actively contribute to science and research. As researchers do not have eyes everywhere; water users like tour operators, surfers, fisherman, beach walkers etc., can become citizen scientists by submitting sightings records of dolphins and whales to this study. The combined power of all these different people contributing sightings around the coast will significantly increase the amount of data collected and help our team to better and more accurately understand the distribution of dolphins and whales. It also helps to pinpoint why certain species occur in certain regions.

The five dolphin species this study will focus on is the heaviside’s dolphin, dusky dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin and humpback dolphin.


Heaviside’s dolphin

mating chase

Dusky dolphin

bottlenose 2

Bottlenose dolphin


Common dolphin

Sousa Humpback dolphin_20130212_A_IMG_3891 (BSJames)

Humpback dolphin

The Sea Search team invites members of the public to contribute to the E3C project.

The four options we have to submit sightings :

  • iSpot (you need to set up a user profile),
  • friending and tagging our Facebook profile (Seasearch sightings),
  •  Twitter
  • by emailing to

If you are unsure about the species, send us a picture and we will gladly confirm identity if possible.

Very simply – we want to collect as many cetacean sightings records as possible.

The primary information we need:

  • What: Species
  • To where : Location
  • To when : Date and time
  • The estimated number of individuals

Add a sighting and contribute to research and the conservation of South Africa’s remarkable marine biodiversity.




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About seasearchafrica

The Sea Search group is a collective of scientists and students with a strong academic background in the area of marine mammal science. Our primary focus is the production of peer-reviewed scientific research and student training. We also provide specialist consultancy services and work with industry and government to promote conservation through effective management.

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