Rachel Doornekamp | January 15th, 2020
For more than 20 years, Island Dolphin Care has provided dolphin-assisted therapeutic, motivational and educational therapy to children and adults with developmental or physical challenges. With an emphasis on inclusivity and kindness, participants are inspired to value and respect marine mammals and their environment through interactive programs, education and research.
“The dolphins have such an impact on these folks, it’s an incredible thing and a real privilege to be here doing this,” shared Director of Zoology Philip Admire. Combining classroom work with dolphin therapy, participants develop and practice key physical, social and emotional skills.
The challenge faced by Island Dolphin Care team was two-fold; the need for regular scuba diving and the influence of humans on behavioural research.
The team at Island Dolphin Care dives the habitat regularly, a necessary chore that demands significant time and work. “Once a week we dive the pools to check on the fences and sweep the bottom - it’s difficult to do and it’s difficult to have that kind of time,” noted Admire. “This is a very old lagoon and we are always getting things coming in from the channel. We are always trying to keep it clean.” As a busy not-for-profit caring for both animals and people, the burden of scuba inspections weigh heavily on the centre. The need for an efficient but accurate way to review the pools was becoming a necessity for the team.
As huge supporters of dolphin research, particularly behavioural research, Island Dolphin Care was also looking for a way to conduct research without influencing dolphin behaviour. “Dolphins take cues from us all the time,” said Admire. “We need the ability to do this behavioural research without them looking at us.” Eager to improve dolphin care and ocean conservation, research is a large part of operations at Island Dolphin Care.
The DTG3 is a mini observation-class underwater ROV built to provide operators the ability to quickly deploy and visually inspect within underwater environments. The low maintenance and durable vehicle provided a unique solution for Island Dolphin Care.
Instead of suiting up and diving into the pools, the Island Dolphin Care team was able to use the DTG3 to conduct regular inspections. By using an ROV in lieu of divers, inspections can be done quickly and easily, without the need to coordinate equipment and swimmers. The quick deployment allowed inspections to take place at any time, a factor that is especially valuable for a busy venue like Island Dolphin Care. The grabber arm provided a convenient method for the team to clean up the litter coming into the habitat through the nearby ocean. “I really like this ROV,” shared Admire. “I like what it can do, I love the grabber arm.”
From a behavioural research perspective, the DTG3 provided the team with a way to observe and research without interfering or influencing the dolphins. “It’s great to be able to interact with the dolphins without having a human face there,” said Admire. “We do a lot of diving here with our dolphins and we’ll be able to do that remotely. When you’re human working with these animals on research you give out these subtle cues and you don’t realize it. The Deep Trekker is not going to do that and we’re going to be able to expand our research possibilities.” Equipped with a 4k quality camera, operators get a live underwater view as they drive the vehicle. The option to take photos and videos allow users to refer back to their footage, which is especially beneficial for research purposes.
“One of the things we’re working on right now is a match program,” shared Admire. “We’re teaching the dolphins to match and locate.” Using the DTG3, the team is able to present objects to the dolphins to match without delivering subtle cues.
The research conducted with the DTG3 will help Island Dolphin Care further their behavioural research without human influence and interference.
As a registered non profit there are many ways to help Island Dolphin Care. Their website provides opportunities to donate or volunteer.
When asked about how to help out Admire noted that, “One of the things that I talk about when I get asked to go to schools to give talks about marine animals is the amount of garbage in the world. A thousand dolphins and whales die around the world everyday from plastics alone. Animals worldwide need our help, the environment needs our help.”
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