Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 23, Issue 13, pp 3319–3338 | Cite as

Local assessments of marine mammals in cross-cultural environments

  • A. Grech
  • G. J. Parra
  • I. Beasley
  • J. Bradley
  • S. Johnson
  • S. Whiting
  • li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers
  • Yanyuwa Families
  • H. Marsh
Original Paper


Biodiversity assessments by research scientists are often logistically difficult and expensive to implement in remote areas. Locally-based approaches have the potential to overcome some of these challenges by capitalising on the knowledge and capacity of local people. Many Indigenous people in northern Australia are custodians of coastal areas that support globally significant populations of tropical marine mammals, including coastal dolphins and dugongs. The objective of our study was to design and implement a locally-based approach in a cross-cultural environment to assess the distribution of marine mammals in the remote waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory. The study was conducted as a partnership between Yanyuwa Aboriginal families, research scientists, government officers and the li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers. We conducted a series of participatory mapping workshops to share and record local observations of dolphins and dugongs. These observations provided the longitudinal information required to inform the design of the first dedicated marine mammal vessel survey in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The vessel surveys found three species of dolphins present in the area (Australian snubfin, humpback and bottlenose dolphins), even though sightings were low; dugongs being much more common. We found that the integrative and locally-based approach built the capacity of both the li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers and research scientists to assess the distribution of marine mammals. If replicated over longer time-frames and coordinated over broader spatial scales, information on distribution and abundance derived from locally-based approaches has the potential to inform the status of marine mammals.


Locally-based assessments Monitoring Indigenous Australia Cross-cultural research Dolphins Dugongs 



This research was funded by the: Australian Marine Mammal Centre; Australian Department of the Environment; and an anonymous donor with a passion for dugongs. We thank: Dr Amanda Kearney (University of New South Wales) for facilitating the workshop attendance of the Yanyuwa women; Keith Saalfeld (Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport) for his valuable technical support; and the following organizations for sending representatives to the June 2009 workshop: Northern Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport (NRETAS) and Northern Land Council (NLC). The li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers (Nicholas Fitzpatrick, Sean Fitzpatrick, Damien Pracy, Stephen Johnson, Anthony Johnston, Ronnie Miller, Graham Friday, and Thomas Simon) and Mathew Golding, Katharina Peters and Juliet Shrimpton participated in the vessel surveys as observers and provided logistical support. Carol Palmer (NRETAS) and Micha Jackson and Rod Kennett (NAILSMA) provided valuable assistance with CyberTracker software and use of the Nomad recording device. The mapping and knowledge sharing workshops were conducted under human ethics permit (No. H3332) from James Cook University. Surveys were conducted under animal ethics permit (No. A1433) from James Cook University and research permit (No. 35216) from the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Grech
    • 1
    • 2
  • G. J. Parra
    • 3
    • 4
  • I. Beasley
    • 2
  • J. Bradley
    • 5
  • S. Johnson
    • 6
  • S. Whiting
    • 7
  • li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers
    • 6
  • Yanyuwa Families
    • 6
  • H. Marsh
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environment and GeographyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab, School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Aquatic SciencesSouth Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)West BeachAustralia
  5. 5.Centre for Australian Indigenous StudiesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  6. 6.Mabunji Aboriginal Resource Association IncorporatedBorroloolaAustralia
  7. 7.Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and SportDarwinAustralia

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