The "Lucky Seven" dolphins

As authorized by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service., the DPMMR Protect Wild Dolphins Research and Conservation Program conducts monthly surveys of the Florida Keys dolphin population. Since 1980 DPMMR has served as the primary responder to marine mammals stranding events throughout the Keys vital 10,000 mile square region.

Two dolphins riding a wave

Using marine mammals as “sentinels of ocean and human health” the programs primary goal is to characterize the health, behavior, biology and ecology of these long-lived mammals in order to aid conservation and resource managers.

Three pictures of dolphins' dorsal fins

Another program goal is to keep an active surveillance of the wild dolphin population in order to identify anthropogenic stressors, including environmental contaminants and fishing gear entanglements and to monitor for infectious diseases known to impact populations of small cetaceans, with implications for ocean and human health.

Three pictures of damaged dolphins' dorsal fins

The DPMMR Wild Dolphin Research Program uses an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to further research objectives within the unique long-term “natural laboratory” of Florida Bay, where hundreds of identifiable resident dolphins call home.

Satellite photo of the keys
Screenshot of the tracking program

Program deliverables include research and consultations throughout the southeastern U.S and supports other marine mammal conservation programs around the world. The Program is also available to conduct follow-up monitoring of dolphins and whales that have been treated at Mote and other rehabilitation hospitals and returned to the wild to determine the success of treatment.

Meet The Team:

Team members standing on the bow of a boat


Woman piloting the boat


Team members looking for dolphins in the ocean


Stephen McCulloch
Principle Investigator

Kelley Winslip, Ph.D.
Research Associate

Arthur Cooper
Research Biologist

Jill Richardson, Ph.D.
University of Miami, RSMAS
Scientific Advisor

Kyle Lane
Marine Operations

Holli Eskelinen, Ph. D.
DPMMR Assistant Director of Research
Scientific Advisor

Bethany Wallace, MPS
DPMMR Volunteer Coordinator

Nicole Sears, MSc
DPMMR Photo-ID c


We have a $15,500 annual budget for fuel, boat maintenance, camera cleaning and computer software.

All dolphin photo-id fin photographs courtesy of Stephen McCulloch using National Marine Fisheries Service LOA 21556.


Two dolphins jumping out of the water

Links to Marine Mammal Resources:

Computing Dolphin Fin Photo-ID’s / American Scientist

GoMDIS - the Gulf of Mexico Identification System

FinBase Photo-Identification Database System

New fin-recognition technology a boon for global dolphin conservation 'finFindR' software compares images in fraction of a second

To Report a Stranded or Injured Marine Mammal

Contact the 24-hour Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Hotline

1-888-404-FWCC (3922)



DPMMR Photo ID Summary Report – 2019

Since obtaining authorization (NMFS LOC No. 21556) to conduct photo identification surveys, considerable progress has been made towards stated project objectives to provide a contemporary account of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) utilizing the near shore waters of the Upper Florida Keys. These data will be utilized to help refine geographic ranging boundaries of wild dolphin populations, and aid NOAA Fisheries stock assessments and management.

The objective to identify individual dolphins and provide data on occurrence and distribution, site fidelity, habitat use, social structure, and reproduction has included survey effort over (16) months (Sept. 2018-Dec. 2019), resulting in (22) survey days. Of those days, dolphins were encountered on (17) survey days, resulting in (49) sightings and (189) individually identified animals. To date, (57) Individuals have been re-sighted at least once and preliminary data suggests site fidelity in areas of both Florida Bay and near-shore coastal regions over multiple seasons.

In addition, each survey has provided hours of active surveillance for marine animals in distress and/or animals exhibiting signs of disease (skin disorders) or human interaction. Fortunately, no incidents involving dolphins were observed or reported. However, one adult green sea turtle, and one pelican were safely recovered for treatment.

Further, since the projects inception numerous students, interns and staff have gained valuable hands-on experience thru active participation in the photo-ID program.  This includes the (4) interns;  (10) DP/DPMMR staff members; (13) graduate students and (1) intern from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who recently graduated and has stayed on as a paid employee.

Valuable data collected from this project will help to increase the scientific, conservation, and management understanding of the local population, and will contribute to the Gulf of Mexico Dolphin Identification System (GoMDIS) and the Mid-Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Catalog (MABDC) to assist matches across regions.

Additional information and images available from DPMMR Photo-ID Newsletter.