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Keywords:

  • bottlenose dolphin;
  • cetacean stranding;
  • cetacean rehabilitation;
  • offshore bottlenose dolphin stocks;
  • satellite-linked radio tracking;
  • dolphin release

Abstract

Despite recent progress defining the morphological and genetic characteristics of forms of the bottlenose dolphin inhabiting offshore waters, little is known of their behavior or ranging patterns. Reports suggest that an “offshore form” exists between the 200- and 2,000-m isobaths in distinct Gulf of Mexico and western North Atlantic stocks, while one or more coastal forms inhabit the waters inshore. Two opportunities to track rehabilitated adult male bottlenose dolphins with satellite-linked transmitters occurred in 1997. “Rudy” stranded in NW Florida and was released in the Gulf of Mexico off central west Florida. He moved around Florida and northward to off Cape Hatteras, NC, covering 2,050 km in 43 d. “Gulliver” stranded near St. Augustine and was released off Cape Canaveral, FL. He moved 4,200 km in 47 d to a location northeast of the Virgin Islands. Gulliver swam through 5,000-m-deep waters 300 km offshore of the northern Caribbean islands, against the North Equatorial Current. These records expand the range and habitat previously reported for the offshore stock of bottlenose dolphins inhabiting the waters off the southeastern United States, underscore the difficulties of defining pelagic stocks, illustrate the success of rehabilitation efforts, indicate the value of follow-up monitoring of rehabilitated and released cetaceans, and expand our understanding of the long-range movement capabilities of a dolphin species more commonly thought of as a resident in coastal waters.