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dolphin photo-identification


Protecting Species Diversity in Southern California Waters

The Southern California Bight (SCB) supports one of the largest and most diverse cetofauna in the world, including 30 cetacean species. Whales, dolphins and different pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, etc.) inhabit this area either as seasonal visitors, migrants or residents. Unfortunately many of these species are currently threatened, endangered or critically endangered.

Within the SCB, the Santa Monica Bay represents a region with unique topographic and oceanographic features likely to affect the species inhabiting it. A better understanding of the ecology of the local cetacean community is essential to protect these animals, the species they feed upon, and the entire habitats in which they live. It is also essential for making sound conservation and management decisions for their protection.

OCS research actively establishes and increases the scientific knowledge needed to ensure ecological health and species diversity in Southern California waters for generations to come.

Southern California bight map
30 cetacean species can be found within the Southern California Bight

Decades of Pioneeering Research

During almost two decades of on-the-water marine mammal & seabird research in California, Ocean Conservation Society has conducted many scientific studies and collected a wide array of data (see our specific current and past projects). Over the years, our research at sea has become increasingly more complex. The number of studies has also grown and we now have a larger team of research assistants and volunteers.

In the beginning, we left the dock with only a GPS, a pair of binoculars and a camera. Now we use a 52-foot research sailboat fully equipped and with an up-to-date navigational system. Every week we go to sea and our research team works with multiple cameras, video cameras, laptop computers, tablet computers, underwater hydrophones, plankton nets, and more!

common and bottlenose dolphins

Short-Beaked Common Dolphin,
Delphinus delphis

Bottlenose Dolphin,
Tursiops truncatus

OCS' "L.A. Dolphin Project":
First Long-Term Studies of Whales and Dolphins in Southern California

In 1996, when OCS started "The Los Angeles Dolphin Project", or L.A.D.P. (not to be confused with the L.A.P.D. or L.A. Police Department!) our research was focused on better understanding the behavioral ecology of marine mammals inhabiting these California waters. At that time, there were no long-term studies on dolphins and whales in this area so it was critical for us to understand which species were here and why.

LADP underwater video LADP researcher
Early attempts at underwater video   LADP researcher observing dolphin behavior

The Evolution and Expansion of OCS Studies

In later years, our studies started focusing on specific species, such as the bottlenose dolphins, and addressing questions that arose during the first years of our marine mammal work in California. We also published papers on other subjects related to our marine mammal research, such as new techniques for on-the-water data collection and reviews on comparison of socio-ecology in dolphins and African apes.

LADP dolphin survey
Los Angeles Dolphin Project offshore dolphin survey back in 1996


Conservation and Action-Oriented Approaches

In recent years, our research has taken more and more of a CONSERVATION AND ACTION- ORIENTED APPROACH. OCS strongly believes that we don't have the luxury to simply conduct pure research without always having conservation in mind in of all our current research projects. We also strive to include educational and outreach aspects with action-oriented components.


We believe there is a strong need for tangible, measurable, conservation-oriented actions. We need the collaborative efforts of scientists, policy makers, economists, sociologists, politicians and concerned citizens like you -- all of us working together, even if this means getting outside our comfort zone!
Help us ensure ecological health and species diversity in our Southern California waters for generations to come by making a tax-deductible donation:

Additional In-Depth Information

If you would like to learn more about our past research on dolphins, whales, pinnipeds and seabirds in California and our conservation and education work, visit our peer-reviewed scientific publications page. Please contact us to request specific publications if these are not available in PDF format online, as we will be glad to send them to you via email.

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Dolphin drawings © 2005 Massimo Demma