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Spatial and temporal variation in abundance, group size and behaviour of bottlenose dolphins in the Florida coastal Everglades

  • Robin E. Sarabia (a1), Michael R. Heithaus (a1) and Jeremy J. Kiszka (a1)
Abstract

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are abundant in many coastal ecosystems, including the coastal Everglades. Understanding spatial and temporal variation in their abundance and group sizes is important for estimating their potential ecological importance and predicting how environmental changes (e.g. ecosystem restoration) might impact their populations. From August 2010 to June 2012, we completed a total of 67 belt transects covering a total of 2650 linear km and an area of 1232 km2. Dolphin densities varied spatially and temporally. The highest densities of dolphins were found in coastal oceans and inland bays and were lowest in rivers. Use of rivers, however, increased during the dry season while densities in other habitats remained similar across seasons. Dolphins appeared to prefer portions of bays close to mangrove-covered islands over open waters. A resighting rate of 63.6% of individuals across the 2-year study suggests that at least a portion of the population is probably resident within study regions over long time periods. The largest groups (mean 6.28, range 1–31) were found in open waters and bays despite apparently low predation pressure. Indeed, shark bite scars – likely the result of unsuccessful predation attempts – were conclusively observed on only 1% of individuals. Although further studies are warranted, the high densities of dolphins suggest that they are an important upper trophic level predator in the coastal Everglades, but their ecological importance probably varies in space and time.

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      Spatial and temporal variation in abundance, group size and behaviour of bottlenose dolphins in the Florida coastal Everglades
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      Spatial and temporal variation in abundance, group size and behaviour of bottlenose dolphins in the Florida coastal Everglades
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Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: R.E. Sarabia, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Marine Science Program, 3000 NE 151st St, MSB 350, North Miami, FL 33181, USA email: Robin.sarabia@gmail.com
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