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Team Leaders

Scientists associated with the Dolphin Alliance Project, Inc. are busy conducting research on a number of different dolphin alliances, families and individuals in Shark Bay, Australia at its surrounding areas.  Team leaders offer an extraordinary level of talent and experience in behavior, genetics, population biology, ecology and communication.  Together with Masters students, Ph.D. students, Post-doctoral fellows and collaborators at other universities, we are poised for a future of exciting scientific discovery.

 
 
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Dr. Richard Connor

professor at UMASS Dartmouth, USA

Richard C. Connor, Ph.D., co-founded the dolphin research in Shark Bay in 1982 and is a co-director of The Dolphin Alliance Project (DAP). After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1990, Dr. Connor held post-doctoral positions at Harvard, The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, The Michigan Society of Fellows and The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Dr. Connor has taught for 22 years at The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth where he is a Professor of Biology. Beginning with his first scientific paper on dolphin altruism, co-authored with Professor Kenneth S. Norris in 1982, Dr. Connor has published 80 articles on the Shark Bay dolphins, general aspects of dolphin behavior and evolution, and on the evolution of cooperation and mutualism. His research has been featured numerous times in the media, including National Geographic and Nova documentaries and The New York Times

The main focus of Prof. Connor’s work in DAP has been dolphin behaviour and the males’ alliance relationships. He examines the alliance relationships from a broad, comparative perspective and has developed new theory on alliance formation and cooperation in general.  Dr. Connor has recently published: Dolphin Politics in Shark Bay: A Journey of Discovery.  In this book,  Dr. Connor brings the reader on board for the drama, the discoveries and the insights that have revealed the astonishing, often sexual and sometimes violent, social lives of dolphins.

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Dr. Michael Krützen

director of The anthropology institute, Zurich

Prof. Michael Krützen is a Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and Genomics at the University of Zurich. His broad interests are in the social evolution of both primates and cetaceans. Using modern DNA techniques, his work focuses on relationships among cooperating individuals, measuring the number of paternities, and trying to link genetic population structure with social correlates. Prof. Krützen’s group at the University of Zurich also work on the demographic reconstruction of animal populations and delineation of conservation units.

Prof. Krützen has also been fascinated by the study of how knowledge is transferred in primates and cetaceans. His work on social transmission of tool use in dolphins in Shark Bay and orang-utans in Borneo and Sumatra has helped further our understanding of how culture has evolved in humans.

Recently, Prof. Krützen’s group has employed population genomics approaches to identify the genetic signatures of adaptive evolution in orang-utans and dolphins. Using landscape genomics approaches, this work aims to disentangle adaptive evolution from non-adaptive processes, such as genetic drift, by taking into account demographic, stochastic and environmental processes.

 
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Dr. Mike Heithaus

Florida international university

 Mike Heithaus, Ph.D., started working with Richard Connor in
 Shark Bay in 1994 and co-founded the Shark Bay Ecosystem
 Research Project in 1997.  He received his Ph.D. from Simon
 Fraser University in 2001, then served as a post-doctoral
 scientist and then staff scientist at the Center for Shark
 Research at Mote Marine Laboratory.  He also was a fellow
 in the Remote Imaging Laboratory at the National Geographic
 Society.  Dr. Heithaus has been on the faculty at Florida
 International University since 2003, where he is a Professor
 of Biology and the Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences
 & Education. The work of Dr. Heithaus and his lab has
 focused on predator-prey interactions in marine ecosystems
 and the ecological roles and importance of sharks and other
 large marine animals including marine mammals,
 elasmobranchs, sea turtles, sirenians and crocodilians.  He
 has published 150 articles and book chapters and he has been
 involved in the development of numerous documentaries for
 the National Geographic Channel and Discovery.  He also has
 developed video-based projects for K-12 classrooms.  Dr.
 Heithaus' work in Shark Bay has focused on the role of
 predation risk from tiger sharks in shaping dolphin habitat
 use patterns and the importance of tiger sharks in shaping
 the dynamics of the bay by scaring their prey, especially
 sea turtles and dugongs.

 
 
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Dr. Stephanie King

University of Western Australia

Dr. Stephanie King is a Branco Weiss Fellow (The Branco Weiss Fellowship – Society in Science)  at the University of Western Australia. Her research interests lie in understanding the role vocal communication plays in mediating complex social behaviours, such as cooperation, in animal systems and human society. The nested structure of male alliance formation found in the Shark Bay dolphin population provides a unique opportunity to understand the interplay between vocal communication and cooperative strategies. She is using a hydrophone array, overhead video and sound playback experiments to explore the role of communication in the formation and maintenance of male alliances, and the communicative strategies these males employ when making decisions of when and with whom to cooperate.

Much of Dr. King’s earlier work has involved logistically challenging field experiments with bottlenose dolphins. She obtained the first evidence of a non-human mammal using learned signals as labels for individuals (published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), and demonstrated that the copying of individually-specific calls in dolphins has parallels with human language usage, where the maintenance of social bonds appears to be more important than the immediate defence of resources (published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B).

Dr. King’s research has received worldwide media coverage and has been the focus of TV documentaries (BBC’s Britain’s Secret Seas and Winterwatch), radio broadcasts (BBC, ABC and NPR) and has featured in many high-profile science magazine articles (e.g. New ScientistScientific American, and National Geographic, amongst many others).

 
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Dr. Simon Allen

Dr. Simon Allen is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, having completed a short Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Zurich. He is doing an Australian tour of tertiary institutions, having gained his B.Sc. from Flinders University, his B.Sc. (Hons.) from the University of Queensland, his M.Sc. from Macquarie University and his Ph.D. from Murdoch University. His  research interests lie in studying the complex social and foraging behaviors of dolphins, and assessing the impacts of human activities (fisheries, tourism, coastal development and climate change) on marine fauna in general. Improved wildlife conservation and better management of the ways in which humans interact with wildlife is the end goal.

Dr. Allen has thus far published over 40 scientific articles and book chapters on dolphins, whales, reptiles and other fauna in journals and texts ranging from the taxon- and issue-specific (for example, Marine Mammal Science and Whale-Watching: Sustainable Tourism and Ecological Management) to the broad (Proceedings of the Royal Society BMolecular Ecology and Scientific Reports). He first ventured to Shark Bay, now one of his favourite places on the planet, in the year 2000 and has been returning ever since, including leading the 2005 Dolphin Alliance Project field season for Drs. Connor and Krützen, and running the inaugural 2007 Dolphin Innovation Project field season. 

Simon is now a PI of the Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance. He is a very keen field biologist and photographer and holds a general interest in the behaviour, ecology and conservation of both marine and terrestrial wildlife. He would like to be head-hunted for a photo-journalism gig, or perhaps a fireman, when he eventually grows up.

 
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Dr. Whitney Friedman

NOAA, UC Santa Cruz

Long-term behavioural observation in Shark Bay has revealed a nested structure of male alliances that is stable across the population, but often dynamic at the individual level. How is this complex social structure mediated through interactions among individuals?

Historically, such questions have been difficult to address as many interactions occur partially or completely underwater. For her dissertation research, Whitney employed a combination of aerial videography, underwater acoustic recordings, and boat-based observation to record fine-scale detail of interaction among 17 males within the Shark Bay population as they engage in first-, second-, and third-order associations.