Abstract: I studied behavior and range patterns of individual bottlenose dolphins during 1984 in the mid-eastern Gulf of California, Mexico. Dolphin sighting rate was significantly higher in areas close to estuary mouths, 0.306 sightings per hour compared with 0.155 sightings per hour in areas distant from estuary mouths. Dolphins used these estuarine areas to feed; 61% of all behavior observed near estuaries was feeding as compared with 23% elsewhere. Traveling comprised 61% of all behavior observed in areas distant from estuary mouths. Estuaries are sites of large concentrations of nutrients which support great numbers of filter-feeding zooplankton and fish. Bottlenose dolphins may specialize on esmarine prey, or they may feed in estuarine areas simply because of the abundance of potential prey that these systems support. In either case, data on relative numbers, distribution patterns, behavior and diet indicate that this is a general trend in habitat use for many coastal populations of this species in the Pacific and Atlantic.
Ranges of a few individuals spanned a minimum of 65 km of coastline, and animals were not permanent residents of a monitored bay. In contrast, dolphins off the coast of Sarasota, Florida, have been reported to be year-round residents with smaller ranges. This difference in degree of site fidelity may be related to habitat differences. The west coast of Florida is dotted with numerous and large estuarine systems which may host permanent prey populations and support resident groups of dolphins. The Gulf of California coastline contains few estuaries; most are small and perhaps support prey resources which are ephemeral, requiring dolphins to range over larger distances in search of food.