Reading Nature, Observing Science: Examining Material Practices in the Lick Observatory Archives and Kenneth S. Norris Papers

Dolphin Research

Norris is largely responsible for founding the field of cetacean (dolphin and whale) research. He has produced and edited numerous publications on dolphins, including the book Dolphin Days: the Life and Times of the Spinner Dolphin (1991), which was awarded the John Burroughs Medal in 1992. Norris's research on dolphins also extended to the realm of public policy and conservation. He played a key role in drafting the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and led research that focused on ways to decrease the number of dolphins killed by tuna fishing. 

Norris's vast publications and work on dolphins were the product of various modes and practices of observation. One of the most prevalent material practices that informed Norris's dolphin research was note taking. He wrote comprehensive and detailed field notes that documented his observations of dolphins and their behaviors in sites throughout the globe, from the waters off of South America to California and Hawai'i. In his aerial behavior logs, Norris used charts and timed periods of observation to record the occurrence of different dolphin behaviors. He also relied on visual mediums in order to better understand dolphin anatomy, formations, and interactions. This ranged from his own hand drawn sketches to photography and labelled diagrams. These distinct practices of observation helped shape the larger terrain of Norris's dolphin research, as the various possibilities and constraints posed by different methods of observation ultimately influenced his findings and lines of inquiry. 

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