Abstract: We studied the influence of trammel nets on the behaviour and spatial distribution of bottlenose dolphin in the Aeolian Archipelago, Southern Italy. Ninety-six dolphin groups were followed for 98.75 h from 2005 to 2011 during 400 boat surveys. Thirty-three dolphins were photo-identified, and their age and sex were estimated. The encounter rates, residency times, and group sizes were used to model the spatial distribution of dolphins with trammel nets and physiographic variables. Principal Component Analyses were applied to find the habitats selected for different behavioural activities. Encounter rates were significantly higher in early summer when trammel nets were more abundant. Residency times were spatially correlated to the mean number of trammel nets. Group sizes increased with distance from coast but decreased with abundance of trammel nets. Males preferred smaller groups than females, and groups with calves were larger than the other groups. Resting, socializing, and playing groups were larger than groups of dolphins engaged in travelling, foraging, and feeding. Spatial segregation between groups of dolphins with different sizes was observed. Although dolphins benefit from taking fish in trammel nets, this interaction can be dangerous because the fishermen can use harmful methods to deter dolphins from the net. Herein, we proposed that males prefer habitats where they have a higher probability of locating/capturing a desirable prey such as coastal areas with a greater amount of trammel nets; while for other activities, they may move into safer areas. On the contrary, females prefer habitats for reasons not associated with prey such as social behaviours, resting, or calf care/learning; and they may spend more time in the safest areas, at a distance from the coast, simply feeding when the opportunity presents itself. This study showed that group size/composition data are of critical importance for modeling dolphin–habitat relationships with significant consequences in terms of conservation strategies.

Key Words: group size, habitat use, bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, feeding behaviour, trammel nets

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1578/AM.41.3.2015.295

Page Numbers: 295-310

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