Abstract: The Shannon Estuary is home to Ireland's only known resident population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and is designated as a candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) for this species. Proper conservation management of these dolphins requires an understanding of the social structure of this population. Four years of photo-identification data (2005 to 2009, excluding 2007) were used to construct sociograms that complement a cluster analysis of individually marked dolphins and their associates. The results found little evidence of social stability or group fidelity for this study's dolphin population. Analysis of dolphins observed in consecutive years showed that the probability of group members encountering an individual dolphin in the second year did not depart from a random model. The social parameters for this resident population seem to be typical for this species. Bottlenose dolphins are found to exhibit a highly fluid, dynamic social structure within which individuals change their composition and associates regularly. These dolphins in the Shannon Estuary appear to live in a fission-fusion based society.

Key Words: Shannon Estuary, social structure, fission-fusion, inter-annual fidelity, bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.36.4.2010.372

Page Numbers: 372-381

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