DIURNAL BEHAVIOR OF FREE-RANGING BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN THE KVARNERIĆ (NORTHERN ADRIATIC SEA)1

Authors


  • 1

    We dedicate this work to Ken Norris, who first gave the stature of solid science to the act of observing wild dolphins: in deep appreciation for enriching us with the inspiration of his teaching, with the example of his imaginative work, and with the encouragement of his ever friendly and liberal advice.

Abstract

The diurnal behavior of a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) community was observed from small inflatable craft between 1987 and 1994. Following a preliminary ad libitum study 11,839 3-min behavioral samples were recorded in 1991-1994. The behavioral budget showed a predominance (about 80%) of activities characterized by long (>30 sec) dives, considered to be largely related to prey search or feeding. Obvious foraging near the surface was observed rarely. The frequent following of trawlers (accounting for 4.6% of the behavioral budget) was indicative of the presence of alternative strategies for finding food. Yearly and seasonal behavioral variation-particularly in feeding-related and travel behaviors-was consistent with the hypothesis of behavioral flexibility as a response to environmental changes and fluctuating prey kind and availability. Yearly shifts in social behavior appeared to be partly influenced by breeding cycles. Groups engaged in feeding-related activities were significantly smaller than traveling or socializing groups, and dramatic interannual group-size shifts seemed to be largely affected by environmental variables, rather than being entirely determined by behavioral activity changes. The remarkable behavioral flexibility of this bottlenose dolphin community may contribute to its survival in the shifting environmental conditions of the northern Adriatic Sea. However, the high proportion of time consistently devoted to feeding-related activities, as compared to other areas, suggests that food resources in the Kvarnerić were not only highly variable but also depleted.

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