Population surveys of Boca Ciega Bay and surrounding waters are conducted on a regular basis during the summer months.� The research is formally authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Typically, observations are made from a 19' boat, and digital pictures of the dorsal fin of each dolphin present in a group are taken and later used for photo-identification purposes.
Optimally 3-4 members of the ECDP are present on the boat to conduct a survey, each fulfilling a different duty, such as driver, photographer, and data collector. During ad libitum surveys only a limited amount of time is spent with each dolphin group, with the emphasis on obtaining the necessary photographs and collecting environmental and behavioral data.� This type of survey provides valuable information about population size, group composition, dolphin distribution, and habitat use.� In addition, focal animal follows are conducted, in which one dolphin or a group of dolphins is observed for several consecutive hours. This type of survey provides valuable information about activity budgets and habitat use.
The ECDP has logged a total of 452 survey days (as of summer 2005).� A comparable amount of time has also been spent in lab processing data.� There have been 1951 groups of bottlenose dolphins observed, and there are currently 673 dolphins in the Eckerd College catalog
The Eckerd College catalog is compared with catalogs from Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and the catalog of Tampa Bay dolphins compiled for a Master's thesis at the University of South Florida. These collaborations allow for the construction of a clearer picture of dolphin home ranges and distribution in coastal waters of west-central Florida.