Abstract: Diurnal and seasonal patterns in the behaviour of a small population of bottlenose dolphins were assessed in Bahía San Antonio (BSA), Patagonia, Argentina, between 2006 and 2011. Results indicated that dolphins used the study area mainly to rest, travel, and forage, with a marked diurnal and seasonal pattern in their activity. During the early morning, most dolphin groups were resting, while towards the afternoon and evening, surface feeding and social activities peaked. During winter, social activities and surface feeding increased notably; during summer, diving behaviour reached its peak, presumably associated with a tail-out/peduncle-dive foraging strategy. The observed seasonal variation in foraging strategies is hypothesised to be related to the seasonal behavioural changes of prey species in the area that are linked to spawning. The variation in group size further appears to reflect the regulation of feeding competition while reconfirming the low predation risk within the study area. Results of this study indicate the behavioural and social flexibility of bottlenose dolphins in BSA and suggest a link to the seasonal variations in prey availability. Considering the general bottlenose dolphin population declines in Argentina presumably related to prey depletion, it could be argued that the temporal occurrence of spawning shoals and a general low presence of other top predators directly and indirectly make this a favourable area for this population. Additional information is required to more comprehensively address this hypothesis. The information presented herein serves as vital baseline data for future conservation management protocols.

Document Type: Research Article

Key Words: activity budget, foraging strategy, group size, intraspecific competition, seasonal patterns

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1578/AM.41.3.2015.272

Page Numbers: 272-283

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