Incidental capture of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in shark nets: an assessment of some possible causes



A minimum of 250 bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, was caught in anti-shark nets off Natal, South Africa between January 1980 and December 1988. Males and females constituted 45.4% and 54.6% of the catch, respectively. Sexually mature males and females constituted 18.2% and 24% of the total catch, respectively. Of the latter, 65% were lactating and a further 10.3% were pregnant. Adolescents, three or more years old but not mature, contributed 12.4% of the catch. Calves, two growth layer groups (GLGs) or less in the dentine, constituted the greatest portion of the catch, almost 43%, and of these almost 70% were either weaned or weaning at capture. Analyses of biological, environmental and physiographic data for each capture suggest a number of reasons for the catch of bottlenose dolphins. The distribution of catches was random but catch rates were proportional to the number of nets. The stomachs of most dolphins were almost full at the time of capture, suggesting that enmeshing occurred either during or subsequent to feeding. Most captures were of single animals, but lactating females with calves constituted more than 25% of catches. The direction of the prevailing current was significantly related to captures. These data are examined in relation to existing knowledge of bottlenose dolphins in this area and suggest that capture may be a consequence of prey abundance at and around the nets, dolphin capture occurring either during or directly after feeding. Possible methods of reducing captures are proposed.