Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Bottlenose Dolphins
Version of Record online: 2 AUG 2002
Volume 16, Issue 4, pages 1171–1173, August 2002
How to Cite
Wade, P. R. (2002), Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Bottlenose Dolphins. Conservation Biology, 16: 1171–1173. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.2002.01645_4.x
- Issue online: 2 AUG 2002
- Version of Record online: 2 AUG 2002
The Bottlenose Dolphin: Biology and Conservation. 2000. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL . 288 pp. $34.95. ISBN 0–8130–1775–0., , and .
From its subtitle, it is clear that this book is intended to cover both the biology and the conservation of bottlenose dolphins. Its overview of the biology of bottlenose dolphins is exceptional. The coverage of conservation issues is good, but it does not take enough of an international perspective to be considered authoritative on the subject. Those looking for a roadmap to issues of international conservation and management will have to look elsewhere. This shortcoming is overcome, however, by the fact that the book is wonderfully written, entertaining to read, and exhaustively documented.
Bottlenose dolphins are one of the best-studied species of cetacean, due in large part to their easy accessibility in coastal waters worldwide, and the authors bring a wealth of experience with dolphins to this work. Wells is a founding researcher of one of the longest-term studies of cetaceans in the world, a photoidentification study of bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota, Florida, that started in the early 1970s. A book on the biology of bottlenose dolphins was previously published over a decade ago ( Leatherwood & Reeves 1990), but that book contained authored chapters that were structured as scientific papers. This book is structured differently and provides an overview of bottlenose dolphin biology from the consistent point of view of the three authors, and it is deliberately written in a more casual style than a typical scientific paper. This makes the book more accessible to a nonscientific audience, which was the intent of the authors, and they have succeeded admirably. The subject is excellent for such a book because the authors can synthesize and integrate the wealth of information available on bottlenose dolphins, which is difficult to appreciate when read piecemeal in scientific papers. The book balances conservation issues with scientific discoveries, and the authors do a commendable job of providing a balanced scientific view of many controversial issues, such as reintroduction of captive dolphins to the wild.
In an easy-to-read and concise style, the book covers complicated material authoritatively and with depth. It is full of fascinating details about the biology of bottlenose dolphins, and extensive notes are provided on each chapter (149 notes alone for the chapter on function and structure and 155 for the chapter on behavior). These notes document sources of the material and provide directions to the scientific literature for those who are interested, without detracting from the flow of the text. Despite the fact that the book reads as if it were intended for a nonscientific audience, the quality of the material is good enough that it could serve as a text for an undergraduate course, and much of the material is general to odontocetes or cetaceans. Some of the material could even be useful as a supplement to a graduate course or as a reference for professionals in the field, due in part to the excellent illustrations by Sentiel A. Rommel.
The book starts by describing the many conservation issues that potentially affect cetacean populations, particularly coastal populations. These include contaminants, toxins from red tides, disease such as morbillivirus, fisheries bycatch, competition with fisheries for prey, and other possible ecosystem interactions that might result from the depletion of a fisheries resource. The book then traces people's interest in dolphins and does a good job of distinguishing science from myth, which is always an issue in the study of dolphins. Personal anecdotes from scientists in the field can be found throughout the book, and they add considerable interest. For example, it was interesting to read that the Caldwells were subjected to open hostility from the public for having the audacity to suggest that dolphins cannot talk, a subject that is the bane of any dolphin researcher who attends cocktail parties.
The backbone of the book is its excellent summary of the biology of bottlenose dolphins in chapters on evolution, morphology, life history, behavior, and intelligence and cognition. The authors then consider human interactions with dolphins in more detail and finish by moving into management and conservation issues. The Bottlenose Dolphin contains some real gems. The chapter on intelligence and cognition is among the best I have read on the topic, directly addressing the issue of how intelligent dolphins are and whether this is even an appropriate or sensible question to ask. In addition, I have not seen a better description of the “goosebeak,” the unique modification of the odontocete larynx that completely isolates the passage of air into the trachea from the passage of food into the esophagus ( Fig. 31).
The authors should be highly commended for including a chapter on the issues of stock and population structure, because their importance to management and conservation has often been ignored. Although it is correctly pointed out that defining populations and stocks is a scientifically challenging question, the authors missed an opportunity to give concrete examples with bottlenose dolphins. For example, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service currently has defined 36 stocks of bottlenose dolphin in U.S. waters along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, but has defined only one stock of bottlenose dolphin in U.S. waters along the Atlantic coast. This regional difference could have been used to illustrate the difficulties in defining discrete stocks of a cetacean species continuously distributed along a coast. From my perspective, it would also have been useful to make a stronger point of how often evidence of geographic structure is found in small cetacean populations once data are collected ( Perrin & Brownell 1994 ). The conservation implications of this structure are important because it means that the effects of human activities may be suffered by relatively small coastal populations of cetaceans and are not spread over large oceanic populations, a point made by the authors.
The last chapter, “Conservation Strategies and Legislation,” starts by summarizing the effects that humans have on coastal environments worldwide and their potential effects on coastal cetaceans such as bottlenose dolphins. It then provides a good background on what conservation represents and general approaches to marine mammal conservation. Once the chapter focuses on the conservation of bottlenose dolphins, however, the material is incomplete from certain perspectives. The book does not summarize the status of bottlenose dolphins worldwide, and little information is provided about international programs that might be important to conservation efforts. No information is provided about the listing status of bottlenose dolphins under the World Conservation Union ( IUCN; “data deficient” ) or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES; Appendix 2 worldwide, Appendix 1 in several European countries). The book does briefly discuss the depletion of bottlenose dolphin populations in the Black Sea from overharvest, a conservation issue highlighted by the IUCN ( Reeves & Leatherwood 1994 ). But it does not point to international legislation that may contribute to the conservation of dolphins in this region, such as the recent Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS ) passed under the Bonn Convention.
The Bottlenose Dolphin does provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of conservation and management under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act ( MMPA), something with which the authors have considerable experience. They provide a good description of many of the areas where the management and conservation of small cetaceans has succeeded in the United States and where it has failed. Some of the material here could be improved, however. The discussion of the concepts of maximum sustainable yield ( MSY ) versus optimum sustainable population (OSP ) which is used in the U.S. MMPA is an interesting one, but not necessarily important to the conservation of bottlenose dolphins. Although there are legitimate reasons in many cases to criticize the application of MSY concepts to the setting of harvest quotas, this has little relevance to bottlenose dolphin conservation. No management scheme for dolphins currently sets harvest or bycatch quotas to an estimate of MSY. Punt and Smith ( 2001) point out the goal of achieving a constant catch of MSY is no longer considered an appropriate objective, but MSY remains a potentially useful reference point against which exploitation can be measured. In fact, the lower bound of OSP is the maximum net productivity level, which is identical to the MSY if takes are not selective. In other words, the concept of OSP essentially takes MSY as a reference point. The point the authors could have made more clearly is that marine mammal populations in the United States are managed to stay above that reference point, even with uncertain data ( Taylor et al. 2000), rather than managed to that reference point.
These issues point more to the intention of the authors rather than to the quality of the book, and it is clear that the book was never intended to cover bottlenose dolphin conservation issues exhaustively. There are better sources for overviews of the conservation issues affecting coastal cetaceans, such as those by Perrin ( 1999 ) and Brownell et al. ( 1989 ) . Similarly, Reeves and Leatherwood ( 1994 ) provide a better summary of the specific conservation issues affecting coastal cetaceans. This book fills a different niche by providing an excellent summary of the biology of bottlenose dolphins with enough material on conservation issues to provide a useful overview for interested readers.
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