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Dolphin Research
Turtle Research


Over the years Dolphin Marine Conservation Park has been supportive of many research activities, including student projects, Thesis work and combined research projects with many reputable universities and their staff. These research projects are helping people to better understand the marine environment, the animals that inhabit it, and peoples perceptions/attitudes associated with health benefits, disadvantages, and work cultures.

Letters from various universities regarding some of the research work that has been undertaken here at the park, Please click on the buttons.


university of sydney

2015 - Dr Duan March - Auditory anatomy of beaked whales and other odontocetes: Potential for cochlear stimulation via a "vibroacoustic duct mechanism". Undertaken by Dr D March, 2009 to 2014 - soon to be published, one of our major projects is looking into exactly how odontocetes, that is toothed whales, hear. Cetaceans have many special adaptations that allow them to successfully survive and thrive in the marine environment, and one of these adaptions is their ears. Unlike humans, cetacean ears are inside their head and they use special acoustic fats in their jaw, rather than an external ear canal, to detect sound. Despite all we know about these animals, exactly how they hear is still a mystery to us. Without knowing this, we cannot predict how human based activities like shipping and sonar impact upon these animals. When you consider that these animals spend much of their time in environments of reduced light looking for food, hearing is pretty important. The project is a collaborative effort with various universities and government departments and is focusing on the anatomical variations of the ears between species.

Abstract - Computed tomography (CT) and microcomputed tomography (microCT) were used to examine the structures involved in cochlear stimulation in odontocetes and terrestrial mammals. Cranial CT examined the osseous attachment of the skull to the tympanoperiotic complex (TPC) and the path of the endocranial foramen of the vestibulocochlear nerve (EFVN), which was assumed to contain the perilymphatic duct. Additional CTs of TPC were taken postextraction to examine the gross morphology of this structure. MicroCT was used to examine the acoustic windows of the cochlea, including the round and oval windows and the apertures of the cochlear and vestibular aqueducts. Cranial CT scans demonstrated an osseous connection between the skull and TPC in beaked whales and Physeter macrocephalus. EFVN traveled through a greater length of cranial bone and communicated more closely with the periotic bone in beaked whales than in other species. Ziphius cavirostris was observed to have a reduced medial sulcus of the mallear ridge (MSMR) and tympanic plate and an enlarged aperture of the cochlear aqueduct, respectively. The potential significance of these findings, including the role of the perilymphatic duct as a novel route of cochlear stimulation referred to as the "vibroacoustic duct mechanism", are discussed.

Griffith University

2006 - Dr Silvia A. Neslon - Making Fun: Work and Organisational Practices in Australian Aquatic Theme Parks. For the abstract click on the highlighted button


university of new england

2012 - Garry Aitchison - The Impact of Response Expectancies on Heart Rate Variability in a Human-Dolphin Interaction - Abstract -Swimming with a captive dolphin is believed to generate an increase in an individual's subjective well-being. This study tested that relationship and evaluated the relationship between wellbeing and heart rate variability associated with a paid dolphin encounter. It was hypothesised that a change to heart rate variability resulting from the dolphin encounter would be predicted by the strength of belief the individual held about dolphins and by the individual's predicted emotional reactions to the encounter. Beliefs about dolphins were shown to be an important predictor of change to heart rate variability. Contrary to expectations one category of dolphin vocalisations also proved to be a significant predictor of change to heart rate variability.

university of western sydney

2014 - Kelly Cooper - Animal Science - Field Project 2 (300914) Behaviour of Australian sea lions in relation to enclosure size.

2010 - Scott MacRae - Animal Science - Student Project - 'Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Education Provided on Dolphins at Pet Porpoise Pool'

2010 - Rebecca Howard - Animal Science - Student Project - 'Environmental enrichment conditions for Australian and New Zealand Fur seals and Australian Sea lions, and the effects of these on their ability to display natural behaviours in a captive environment'

Curtin university

Dolphin Marine Conservation Park worked with a Curtin University student in a project over several years to determine if the whisker patterns of Australian Sea Lions change over time. It is hoped that the results from this project will allow researchers studying the endangered Australian Sea Lion in the wild to identify seals on the beach by their whisker patterns rather having to catch and tag wild seals.

For more information this is the title of the research and the author.

Whisker spot patterns: a noninvasive method of individual identification of Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea).

Sylvia K. Osterrieder,* Chandra Salgado Kent, Carlos J. R. Anderson, Iain M. Parnum, and Randall W. Robinson.

Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Department of Imaging and Applied Physics, Curtin University, Building 301, Wark Avenue, Bentley, Western Australia 6102, Australia (SKO, CSK, IMP).

Institute for Sustainability and Innovation, College of Engineering and Science, Victoria University, Building 6, McKechnie St., St. Albans, 3021 Victoria, Australia (SKO, RWR).

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, 830 North University, 2019 Kraus Natural Science.

Building, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA (CJRA)

charles sturt university

2013 Rachel Ehsman - A dissertation submitted as part of a Bachelor of Animal Studies - School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences - 'Validation of non-invasive monitoring of fecal corticosteroids in the Australian Sea Lion (Neophocca cinerea) and the evaluations of the effects of storage and degradation'.

macquarie university

2016 October - Monique Ladds (B.Sc., N.Sc.)

'Modelling energectics of fur seals and sea lions'

A study through Macquarie University which examined the metabolic rates of seals (DMM collection) as they dive and swim. In this study staff from Dolphin Marine Conservation Park trained our seals to swim underwater for several minutes before surfacing and breathing inside a plastic bubble for 10mins. By measuring the amount of CO2 exhaled by the seals after their swim the researchers have been able to determine the difference in the metabolic rates between resting and swimming seals. In the real world, this information can be used to determine the energy needs of wild seal colonies and this information can then be used to ensure we protect enough fish stocks around the seal colony so that the seals have enough to eat!

southern Cross university

2018 - Dr Duan March - Dolphin Marine Conservation Park veterinarian, Dr Duan March is currently completing a PhD investigating sea turtle health with partners from Taronga Zoo, Seaworld, Southern Cross University and James Cook University. The article looks at how useful current blood reference intervals are at describing sea turtle health and suggests some ways that we might be able to improve the way we treat these animals when they come in for rehabilitation.

2015 - Dr K Walker - Captive wildlife tourism: identifying and linking participants' environmental behavioural outcomes with perceived experiential benefits and personal values. In E. Wilson & M. Witsel (eds.), Rising Tides and Sea Changes: Adaptation and Innovation in Tourism and Hospitality: Proceedings of the 25th Annual CAUTHE Conference, Gold Coast, Queensland, 2 - 5 February 2015, Southern Cross University: Gold Coast.

The Abstract for this paper is:

This paper contributes to the development of effective survey and analysis processes to identify and better understand the relationship between experiential components, tourists' environmental perceptions and behavioural outcomes resulting from wildlife tourism experiences. Results are presented in relation to a means-end data collection and qualitative analysis process involving the use of Leximancer, comparison to a recently developed ecotourism model, and participants' intentional behaviour changes resulting from a captive dolphin experience. The results demonstrate cognitive links between the perceived benefits of environmental awareness, values of appreciation and global perspectives of personal significance leading to insights of environmental concern and responsibility. These are linked to intentional post-experience environmental behaviours involving lifestyle changes. This knowledge is essential to develop and evaluate tourism programs that inspire participants' concern and positive environmental behaviours, and addresses a gap in the tourism literature comparing captive and 'natural' wildlife interactions with regard to their contribution to environmental sustainability.

2014 - ongoing and not yet published - Investigation into the epidemiology of sea turtle stranding patterns along the NSW north and central coast of NSW

Dolphin Marine Conservation Park is working with the National Marine Science Centre of Southern Cross University and honours student Tegan Baker to investigate the patterns of sea turtle stranding events along the coast of NSW. Dolphin Marine Conservation Park is supplying the stranding data and biological samples so Tegan can investigate the links between weather events and pollutants within the environment on sea turtle health. With some luck and a lot of hard work, hopefully the project will lead to improved environmental monitoring and regulation that will benefit all marine species in the near shore coastal environment, including our threatened species of sea turtle.

2012 - Jacinta Ryan - Whistle production of a female bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) before, during and after birthing. Unpublished Masters Project Report. School of Environment, Science and Engineering, Southern Cross University, Lismore. Environmental Research Project prepared as partial fulfilment of the requirements of the Master of Marine Science.

Abstract: The aim of this study was to examine the whistle production within specific behavioural contexts of a captive birthing female bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops aduncus, and her non-birthing female companion before, during and after a birthing event. Variations in whistle parameters, whistle use and social interaction were investigated to identify specific trends in order to determine the effect of the birthing process on whistle production. Whistle diversity, whistle rate and acoustic parameters were examined for each whistle emission. Acoustic parameters which were used to identify and catalogue distinct whistle types included tonal class, duration, start time, start frequency, end frequency, lowest frequency, highest frequency, peak frequency, the number of loops, breaks, and harmonics. During the birthing phase whistle rate increased by more than 30% and whistle diversity decreased in comparison to the non-birthing phases. Distinct signature whistles were identified with favoured whistles being dependent on birth phase. Behaviour was recorded with each whistle emission adding context to our results. This study is the first to quantify changes in the whistle emissions and behaviour of Tursiops aduncus before during and after a birthing sequence. By monitoring the changes in acoustic emissions and behaviour during the birthing process indicators related to homeostatic imbalance associated with 'stress' may be identified. Understanding how bottlenose dolphins use sound will lead to a greater understanding of dolphin welfare and ecology and aid in their protection and conservation.

2010 - Simon Wilde and Stephen Mason - Research Project 6 Regional Futures Institute - Southern Cross University - The 'Economic Value of the Pet Porpoise Pool on the Coffs Coast Regional Economy: An Exploratory Input-Output Analysis'


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My mum and I just spend the whole weekend at Pet Porpoise Pool, we travel from Tweed to Coffs just to see Buck and Zip, we love them and can't get enough. Already driven down 3 times this year, and every time it's amazing. And we loved seeing all 5 dolphins in the pool, Bella's a sneaky little thing! We got drenched by her plenty of times hahaha. Great to hear you enjoyed yourselves - Paige S..


Every time I come to Coffs Harbour I visit marine magic! My family and I can’t get enough of these beautiful animals. Can’t wait to bring my partner this year so he can experience why I love it so much. Thank you Georgia, we look forward to welcoming you back to the park!..

Karen Purchase

I went up there nearly 2 yrs now after I turned 50. I had received money for my birthday and decided I wanted to do the “trainer for the day” experience. Was the best thing I have ever done in my life, seeing the behind the scene as well getting up and close to all the animals, my favourite parts were taking Elle for her walk around park twice, involved in show, and of course my experiences wi..

Bianca W

Thank you for our tour of your park. We have attended 3 times within the last 11years and have found this way was an amazing way to get up close with the animals and learn more about them. Our guide had lots of information to share and was very good at engaging with the children in the group. Highly recommend. We attended on the 14/7/20 Thank you for taking the time to share your lat..


My son had a brilliant dolphin swim with Trainer Stacey yesterday morning. Stacey was fun, informative and professional and zippy the dolphin was the perfect student loved loved our morning with these beautiful animals Thank you for your lovely feedback Jo, we will let Stacy & Zippy know!..

Diane Binks

Had a great visit to DMCP on Tuesday 30/6/2020, we had an escorted tour of the park with a very informative guide showing us around the park. This visit was very different to our normal visits but my granddaughter and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit! Thank you to all the wonderful people at the DMCP, you are all amazing! Hi Diane, Thank you for your lovely feedback, this is new to all..

Sharon Page

I took my two youngest grandchildren there in July 2018, they both loved it and still talk about it to this day, so we are planning to return with my oldest grandchild as well. They don't like the drive from Sydney, but they do love it there so it makes it worth the trip. Great place, educational and fun. Thank you Sharon, we look forward to seeing you again..

Sharon Fisher

My husband, daughter and my two grandchildren are driving up from Forster on the 26/06/20 to spend the weekend in Coffs Harbour for a getaway weekend.. My daughter , a single mum has just passed her paramedic course and is now in placement in Tea-gardens. She has been so flat out working 12hr shifts. So the reason to get them away for some quality time . I would love to surprise my grandbabies..

Jason lowe

The park is amazing I want to take my daughter their on November for her birthday she would love it so much Thank you Jason..

Rachel Knight

Best birthday ever! I spent two days at Coffs Harbour on January 6 and January 7. I travelled down on the 5th and left on the 8th, my sole reason for traveling 7 hours by train each way being to spend my birthday at your park which is on January 6. I loved it so much and everyone was so friendly that I have already booked my next holiday for 2021 so I can see you all again. My first day I book..

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