Stenella Abundance Research (STAR)

 Eastern Tropical Pacific Cetacean and Ecosystem Assesment Cruises: Mandates and Research Overview (PDF) 

The Stenella Abundance Research Project (STAR) is a multi-year cetacean and ecosystem assessment study designed to assess the status of dolphin stocks which have been taken as incidental catch by the yellowfin tuna purse-seine fishery in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The project consists of a series of research vessel cruises which are repeated periodically. These began in the 1970s. A five-year series was conducted during 1986-1990 (known as MOPS - Monitoring of Porpoise Stocks) and a three-year series was completed from 1998 through 2000.  Additionally, cruises were conducted in 2003 and 2006.

Tres Marias Spinner Dolphins

A multi-national investigation of the eastern tropical Pacific was conducted during 1967 and 1968. This EASTROPAC expedition resulted in a large body of work, documented in the EASTROPAC Atlas.

The primary objective of the STAR project is to investigate trends in population size of those dolphin stocks most affected by the fishery. The project takes a multidisciplinary approach. Data on cetacean distribution, school size and school composition are collected to determine dolphin abundance. Data on dolphin behavior are collected to determine how behavior influences our ability to detect dolphin schools and to determine how dolphins respond relative to research vessels. Oceanographic data are collected to characterize habitat and its variation over time. Data on distribution and abundance of prey fishes and squids, seabirds, and marine turtles will further characterize the ecosystem in which these dolphins live. Wide-format photographs of dolphin schools taken from a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft indicate school size, proportion of calves, and school structure. Skin biopsies of cetaceans provide a database for investigations of stock structure and phylogenetic relationships. Acoustic recordings supplement visual survey data and provide information for on-going studies of cetacean vocalizations. Photographs taken with digital and 35 mm cameras provide information on individual identification and movement patterns of whales.


NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service was directed by Congress to conduct this research as part of the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA). (Full text of the IDCPA law)