Natal philopatry, ranging behavior, and habitat selection of juvenile bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida

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Abstract

Movement patterns and habitat selection are influenced by factors such as resource availability, predation risk, and social interactions, and the relative importance of each of these variables can change over an animal’s life span. Although ranging patterns and habitat use of adult dolphins have been explored in some areas, relatively little is known about how these behaviors develop as young dolphins mature. This study explored natal philopatry during the juvenile period and behavioral development of ranging and habitat-use patterns in newly independent bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) at a long-term study site in Sarasota Bay, Florida. To achieve this we used both long-term sighting data from the resident dolphin community in Sarasota Bay and new information on movements, habitat selection, and social associations collected through boat-based focalanimal behavioral observations on 27 individually identifiable juveniles during 2005-2008. We documented differences in ranging patterns and habitat use of juvenile dolphins by sex, season, and age, and investigated the degree of maternal influence on these behaviors and the functional significance of juvenile groups. We found that male and female dolphins in Sarasota Bay had similar ranging and habitat-selection patterns during the juvenile period. Both sexes exhibited a high degree of philopatry to natal areas as juveniles, with dispersal occurring only rarely by members of either sex. Seasonal and age-related differences in juvenile behavior were evident, and lasting maternal influences on habitat selection and ranging patterns postindependence are apparent. These findings provide some of the 1st information on juvenile marine mammal behavior that contributes to our understanding of resident inshore dolphin behavior throughout the life history and are potentially important to management and conservation efforts.

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