• Stenella attenuata;
  • spotted dolphin;
  • geographic variation;
  • Eastern Tropical Pacific;
  • skull morphology;
  • morphological-environmental covariation;
  • Mantel test


The spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), a species commonly associated with the tuna fishery, is widely distributed in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP). Geographic patterns in morphological characteristics of this dolphin were evaluated for 36 skull measurements of 574 museum specimens allocated to 5° latitude-longitude blocks. A strong subdivision between northern and southern offshore populations was demonstrated using principal components, canonical variates and cluster (UPGMA and function-point) analyses of block means derived from standardized, sex-adjusted measurements. Classification functions derived from a stepwise multiple discriminant analysis correctly identified more than 87 percent of the specimens as being from either a northern or southern locality. These results support recognition of southern spotted dolphins as a separate management stock. Dolphins from a sample representing a far-western locality show similarities with those from the south. Patterns of geographic variation in morphology were evaluated using Mantel tests and matrix correlations; 17 of the 36 characters showed regional patterning and 18 exhibited local patterning. Morphological trends were also assessed with respect to 14 oceanographic measures that characterize environmental variability in the ETP. In general, clinal variation in morphology mirrors a north-south trend found in several environmental variables. Overall, the most striking associations between morphological and environmental variables involved Solar Insolation (Jan.). Sea surface temperatures also exhibited a strong association with morphological variables; the highest correspondence was found between width of the temporal fossa and sea surface temperature in July. In addition, the thickness of the oxygen minimum layer exhibited a pattern of variation that was statistically associated with 58 percent of the skull characters. The geographic patterns found for cranial morphology and environmental measures are strongly clinal and in general congruent, suggesting that oceanographic conditions in part determine trends in morphological characteristics of spotted dolphins.