Based in Sarasota, FL, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) is the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population, focusing on many aspects of dolphin biology, including health, behavior, genetics, environmental change, and adverse interactions with humans. The program is unique in many respects – nowhere else in the world can researchers work with a group of wild dolphins in their natural habitat where the medical and behavioral history of each individual is so well known. “Discoveries” take place over years and decades, and knowledge about health and behavior of coastal bottlenose dolphins has been greatly enhanced by the Sarasota study. In addition to this pioneering research, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program provides unique education and training opportunities to researchers around the world and helps establish dolphin conservation research programs in other countries.

The program is led by Brookfield Zoo Chicago Senior Conservation Scientist Dr. Randall Wells, whose lifetime dedication to dolphins is featured in the book "Dolphin Man." 

Click here to read about a recent rescue of a dolphin calf from fishing line entanglements.




Five Generations of Dolphins
The research focuses on five generations of bottlenose dolphins that reside year-round in Sarasota Bay. The population includes about 150 animals, most of which can be identified by Wells and his team of researchers. For 44 years, researchers have collected biological, behavioral, ecological, and health data, and the data are repeatedly used in scientific studies, as well as public policy decisions that can help protect marine animals.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Study
A study was released in December 2013 that shows a clear link between dolphin illnesses and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study compared the health of dolphins living in an area hit hard by the spill to the health assessment of dolphins that are part of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. The data collected helped in the analysis of the impact that the oil spill has had on dolphins in the area.

To read a National Public Radio story about the study, click here.

Support the SDRP
As we celebrate 50 years for this highly successful research and conservation program, and as we look to an uncertain future, we ask that you join us by making a contribution to support the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. Your support helps to ensure that SDRP continues as a leader in the effort to understand and protect the dolphin populations in Sarasota Bay and elsewhere around the world. We can’t thank you enough for your generous support!



Brookfield Zoo Chicago can accept donations through the PayPal Giving Fund. If you would like to donate via PayPal, please click here. Please note, you will be taken off the website managed by the Zoo to the charity page for the Zoo on the PayPal website. When donating, you have the option to make your donation anonymous. We would prefer you do not, so we can properly thank you for your gift. Also, anonymous donations will not be considered if you are attempting to attain an Elite Status. If you have any specifics around the gift you make via PayPal (i.e. honor or memorial gift, or a gift to a specific fund), please contact us at or 708-688-8560.

Photographs taken by Brookfield Zoo Chicago's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program under National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Scientific Research Permit Nos. 15543 and 20455.