Mammals research

The South Australian Museum’s marine mammal research, collections and databases are globally renowned.

The research group, led by Dr Catherine Kemper, undertakes post-mortems and detailed sample collections on carcasses collected by Museum staff, the Department of Environment and Water, and volunteers. The information collected contributes to long-term studies of many aspects of marine mammal biology.

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

  • diseases and parasites

  • morphology and anatomy

  • population genetics of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus).


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

  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 Department of Environment and Water staff of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary.

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 those of dolphins.


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:

  • conservation of bat species in Australia

  • seasonal changes in the diet of barn owls from the arid zone as determined by studying pellets.

cetacean bones in storage

Cetacean skeletons

A new solution to an old problem

Huge whale skeletons create spectacular museum displays, but a particular feature of their bones can also create a very messy problem. The bones of marine mammals like whales and dolphins, known as cetaceans, have a honeycomb-like interior which they use for fat storage.

grey-bellied dunnarts

Dunnarts demonstrate value of collection

The Terrestrial Mammal group at the South Australian Museum has discovered a species of dunnart not previously recorded in South Australia.

two indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins swimming

Dolphin collection critical to conservation

Australia’s largest and most comprehensive whale and dolphin (cetacean) collection is held at the South Australian Museum and has become a vital part of dolphin conservation efforts in Australia.

dolphin tooth

Marine mammal ageing facility

Knowing the age of wild animals is important to understand many aspects of a species’ life history and ecology.

Coming up next


Up next

Marine invertebrates research