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Abstract: The increase and diversification of vessel traffic worldwide has resulted in a variety of known disturbances to dolphins. As a remote island chain, the Hawaiian Islands rely heavily on the marine environment for transportation, recreation, and fishing that aggregates into significant levels of vessel traffic. Given the known presence of dolphins in this region, there is a gap in knowledge regarding the relative exposure risk that vessel traffic poses to island-associated dolphin populations in Hawai‘i. This research identified the spatial distribution of pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) and common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and determined the extent of their overlap with various categories of vessel traffic in Maui Nui, Hawai‘i. Species distribution was determined using kernel density estimates based on sighting data from 50 spotted dolphin sightings and 75 bottlenose dolphin sightings collected from 2013 to 2018. A combination of vessel GPS and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) vessel tracks were used to quantify vessel traffic within the study area, resulting in 22,464 vessel tracks that were subsequently compiled into categories for analysis from 2014 to 2017. Risk of vessel exposure between vessels and dolphins, or co-occurrence, was determined by calculating the product of predicted dolphin density and predicted vessel density. Both species were exposed to vessel traffic risk over 100% of their distribution, but their highest exposure risk varied spatially, with high risk defined as > 0.25 on a normalized scale of low (0) to high (1) risk. The highest vessel exposure risk for spotted dolphins occurred in deeper, offshore waters, while the highest risk for bottlenose dolphins was in shallow, coastal waters. The vessel categories with the largest area of high risk to spotted dolphins were tour vessel and commercial fishing vessel traffic, while commercial transportation traffic had the highest exposure risk for bottlenose dolphins. This article provides baseline information for understanding the vulnerability of two island-associated dolphin populations to the threat of vessel traffic and highlights the differences in relative exposure risk based on species and vessel categories.
Key Words: vessel traffic, pantropical spotted dolphin, Stenella attenuata, bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, odontocete distribution, risk
Page Numbers: 167-181
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