Cetacean research focuses on population biology and ecology of dolphins, porpoises, and whales. Emphasis is placed on coastal bottlenose dolphins, the most prevalent species in the southeast region. Critical research questions center on investigating and mitigating the impacts of commercial fisheries on cetacean populations, understanding habitat requirements of nearshore bottlenose dolphins, and defining stock structure of nearshore bottlenose dolphins. Basic life history research is also a cornerstone of this program. Approaches and tools for the various types of research encompass biopsy sampling and photo-identification; analysis of stranded animals; surveys for fishery activities and dolphin distribution; live-animal temporary captures for tagging and data collection; collaboration with facilities that maintain captive dolphins; and extensive cooperation with colleagues within NMFS, the academic community, and museums.
Sea turtle research focuses on demographic studies, population dynamics, and fisheries interactions. Although the majority of population monitoring for sea turtles occurs on nesting beaches, there is a critical need for studies of in-water populations. Cooperation between researchers and local fishermen who frequently incidentally capture sea turtles alive in their nets allows for study of species composition, stock structure, population sex ratios, growth rates, site fidelity, and migration and also provides access to turtles for use in behavioral and physiological studies. In addition, this cooperative effort supplies data that can be used as an index of abundance to assess population trends for sea turtles along the US east coast. The NMFS National Sea Turtle Aging laboratory performs skeletechronological analyses of the bones of turtles that strand along the East and Gulf coasts of the US to obtain age, growth, and stage duration data that are critical for management and recovery efforts. Finally, at-sea and aerial observations of sea turtles and fishing gear combined with analyses of sea surface temperature data are used to assess risk of harmful sea turtle/fishery interactions.