Research overview

Marine mammals

The Museum’s highly-valued marine mammal collections and databases are the focus of much of the research undertaken by the Mammals group. Researchers also undertake post-mortems and detailed sample collection on carcasses collected by Museum staff, the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), and volunteers. The information collected contributes to long-term studies of many aspects of marine mammal biology.

South Australia’s extensive database of whale and dolphin sightings is also managed by Dr Catherine Kemper, Senior Research Scientist, Mammals.

To find out more about this research you can listen to Dr Kemper's talk about the challenge of conserving whales and dolphins in the 21st century.

Examples of current research on marine mammals include:

  • taxonomy and distribution of southern Australian dolphins in the genera Tursiops and Delphinus;
  • biology of the Pygmy Right Whale, Caperea marginata;
  • diet and life history of dolphins, whales and seals, including age estimation using teeth;
  • causes of death, including investigations of human interactions leading to death;
  • toxic contaminant concentrations and their relationship to pathology;
  • diseases and parasites;
  • morphology and anatomy;
  • population genetics of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus);
  • conservation status and abundance of dolphins in South Australian waters; and
  • long-term research on the abundance and distribution of the New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) and Australian Sea Lion (Neophoca cinerea) in southern Australia to determine the potential threat to species and populations posed by human activities.


Dolphin Trauma Group

The Dolphin Trauma Group is a multidisciplinary team of specialists who investigate dolphin mortalities, disease and biology in South Australia. Overseen by Dr Catherine Kemper, Senior Research Scientist, Mammals, the specific aims of the group are to:

  1. determine as quickly as possible the cause and manner of dolphin deaths;
  2. ensure that injuries are adequately documented and evidence collected to facilitate prosecutions if potential perpetrators are found;
  3. assist in the collection of information on dolphin morbidity and mortality; and
  4. carry out scientific research that assists in conserving local dolphin populations.

Other members of the Group include Ikuko Tomo (Honorary Research Associate), Michael Bossley (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) and DEWNR staff of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary. In association with Biosecurity SA (Department of Primary Industries and Resources of South Australia), the Dolphin Trauma Group researched the 2013 Dolphin Morbillivirus mortality event in Gulf St Vincent.


Marine Mammal Ageing Facility

The Museum’s Marine Mammal Ageing Facility was established in 2007 to facilitate the study of age estimation of whales, dolphins and seals. At present, it is focussing on methods involving teeth of marine mammals, particularly dolphins and seals, and is also available for use by non-Museum personnel.


Terrestrial mammals

The Mammals group also has an active program of research on Australian terrestrial mammal species and subfossil mammals.

Examples of current research projects include:

  • taxonomy, distribution and identification of small marsupials, native rodents and bats;
  • conservation of bat species in Australia;
  • taxonomy of extinct rodents found in subfossil material (e.g. Pseudomys auritus, Notomys robustus);
  • changes in the subfossil fauna and the relationship to time of deposition; and
  • seasonal changes in the diet of barn owls from the arid zone as determined by studying pellets.