Population structure of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) impacted by bycatch along the east coast of South Africa

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Shark nets placed along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal to protect bathers from shark attacks result in an incidental by-catch of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) at twice the level suggested by the IWC as the maximum sustainable capture rate for a cetacean population. Observational data reported the presence of at least two putative populations, one a seasonal migratory population moving into the KwaZulu-Natal area following the movement of sardines, and the other a coastal, apparently resident population. Some observations indicated possible further subdivision of the coastal population. We analysed nine microsatellite loci and 599 bps of the mitochondrial control region and found small but significant differentiation within the putative coastal population (FST = 0.022) separated north and south of Ifafa. There was weaker evidence for differentiation between the southern coastal and migratory populations (FST = 0.012). Genetic diversity was low for both types of markers in all populations, and the pattern of mtDNA variation was consistent with a founder event. Considering the high capture rate, the low level of genetic diversity, and the evidence of possible population differentiation along the coast, we suggest that particular care should be taken in managing the take from shark nets especially in the north coastal area of KZN where the population showed the higher degree of differentiation.

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