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Keywords:

  • predation risk;
  • shark attack;
  • wounds;
  • tiger shark;
  • bottlenose dolphin;
  • Tursiops truncatus

Abstract

Shark predation may have been a central factor influencing the evolution of sociality in dolphins, as well as a determinant of dolphin habitat use and behavior. To understand the role of predation in driving interpopulation differences in behavior and sociality, it is important to quantify differences in predation risk among populations. This study describes the frequency of shark-inflicted scars and estimates the shark attack rate on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Shark bite scars were found on 74.2% (95 of 128) of non-calves, and most of these scars were inflicted by tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier). Although there were no differences among age/sex classes in the frequency of scarring, significantly more adult males than adult females bore multiple scars. The rate of unsuccessful shark attack was estimated to be between 11% and 13% of dolphins attacked each year. Large sharks (>3 m) were responsible for a disproportionate number of attacks. However, bites from small carcharhinid sharks on 6.2% of dolphins suggest that some of these small sharks may be dolphin ectoparasites. Both the scar frequencies and attack rate suggest that Shark Bay dolphins face a greater risk of predation than bottlenose dolphins in other locations.