A new nonprofit called Protect Our Dolphins will collaborate with students to gather data on the dwindling population of coastal bottlenose dolphins.

P.O.D. will open its doors to the Santa Barbara and UCSB community with its official debut event on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Founder Dr. Toni Frohoff chose Santa Barbara as the location to conduct studies for the Dolphin Psychology and Ecology Project due to a lack of dolphin data for this region, which offers a unique set of environmental challenges for the marine mammals.

The dolphins, scientific name Tursiops truncatus, live within a kilometer of the shore and, due to their proximity to land, are particularly sensitive to human activity. According to Frohoff, a marine mammal behavioral biologist, small changes in daily activities — such as refraining from littering — make a huge difference.

“There are the obvious things that people can do, just overall to remember that what you put on the land or in the land here almost invariably ends up in the marine habitat,” Frohoff said. “[For example,] what we put down our drains [or] our choice of products [greatly affects the dolphins]. Our coastal habitat is much more sensitive than what we previously thought.”

UCSB art students will be given a chance to participate with P.O.D. this spring in Professor Lisa Jevbratt’s Interspecies Collaboration course. Students will board a boat and venture out into the water to interact with the dolphins by using movement, eye contact and above-water sound.

“Through a performative method, we hope to learn about and experience the creativity and playfulness of dolphins and their view of us through our interactions,” Jevbratt said. “What can we learn from other species if we are not using and objectifying them but inviting them to work and play with us?”

Frohoff has worked with dolphins for over 25 years and conducted extensive research on the marine animals.

“I decided to go for the gusto in pursuing my doctorate degree [by] studying not just the behavior of dolphins, but also their internal states of welfare and psychology,” Frohoff said. “They’re not only intelligent, but also very emotional animals, so they have an incredible capacity for both joy and suffering.”

Although Frohoff has worked with dolphins for many years, she said that she is continually astounded by their complexity and she hopes that the community will help work towards their preservation.

“[Dolphins] are so sophisticated, we know they have culture, they even use tools at times, they transmit cultural knowledge to their young,” Frohoff said. “They’re so much more complex than we know. We literally have just touched the surface.”

Those interested in attending the P.O.D. debut at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum event can register at protectourdolphins.com.