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Keywords:

  • bottlenose dolphin;
  • Tursiops truncatus;
  • swimming speed;
  • multi-beam sonar

ABSTRACT

The use of a multibeam sonar for fine-scale studies of the foraging activity of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) was tested in a coastal environment where a group of 14 individuals is known to be resident. The sonar was set on a rubber boat and the signals were received continuously as the dolphins were foraging in a pass swept by strong tidal currents. These signals were recorded in HI 8 video standard. The system produced real-time undistorted images of the dolphins and of their movements within the limits of the sonar beam (15° vertical width, 90° horizontal width, range set at 50 m). The average swimming speed relative to the bottom was 1.8 m ·sec−1 but swimming speed relative to the water was 2.2 m-sec−1 when allowance was made for the average 1.2 m·sec−1 tidal current. Maximum swimming speed relative to the water was as high as 4.8 m·sec−1. It is estimated from studies of swimming energetics that continuously foraging in a current vein flowing at 1.2 m·sec1 would represent only small additional costs compared to foraging out of these currents. However, previous observations of the same pod have shown that these dolphins keep foraging in this site when current speed reaches 2.7 m·sec−1; under such circumstances, the cost of foraging in this site was calculated to increase by 96%. This suggests that foraging efficiency should be dramatically enhanced during rising tide since the dolphins consistently forage in these currents year round.