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Dolphin Bait-Balling Behaviors in Relation to Prey Ball Escape Behaviors


Robin L. Vaughn, Marine Mammal Research Program, Texas A&M University, P.O. Box 1675, Galveston, TX 77553, USA.


Delphinids frequently coordinate behaviors to contain or capture schooling fishes, but we know little about how these behaviors relate to prey escape behaviors, and corresponding costs and benefits. In this study, we described prey ball escape behaviors and investigated how prey ball behaviors related to dusky dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obscurus, prey herding and capturing behaviors using above-water and underwater video methods. Prey balls exhibited horizontal and vertical movements, both of which would have increased feeding costs for dolphins compared with feeding on stationary prey at the surface. The only prey ball behavior that we observed to precede escape was ‘funneling’ or the brief formation of a prey ball shape where the height was at least twice the width. Funneling was observed most often for large prey balls, immediately before they descended. When prey balls ascended, there was an insignificant trend for dolphins to do a greater proportion of herding passes that did not include a prey capture (p = 0.094), and dolphins did a larger proportion of prey-capture attempts on the sides of prey balls (p = 0.017) and a smaller proportion through the edges of prey balls (p = 0.037). When prey balls ascended, dolphins also did a smaller proportion of attempts with a dorsal body orientation (p = 0.037); there were insignificant trends for them to do a smaller proportion with a side orientation (p = 0.100) but a larger proportion with a ventral body orientation (p = 0.081). Thus, funneling is an effective behavior by which large prey balls are able to vertically escape, and dolphins may counter vertical prey escape behaviors by doing herding passes that do not include a prey-attempt, and changing location or body orientation of prey-capture behaviors.