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Consequences of injuries on survival and reproduction of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) along the west coast of Florida

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Abstract

Accurate identification of human-induced injuries that lead to death or interfere with reproduction is important for marine mammal management, as deaths exceeding established limits can lead to restrictions on fisheries or vessel operations. The fates of cetaceans last seen swimming with attached gear, particularly in pelagic fisheries, or with vessel strike lacerations, have been difficult to predict. Survival and reproduction data from long-term research on resident common bottlenose dolphins near Sarasota, Florida were examined relative to consequences of fishing gear ingestion, line entanglements, vessel strikes, and amputations of unknown origins. Fishing hooks embedded in the throat, goosebeak, or esophagus, or line wrapped around the goosebeak, generally lead to death. Multiple, constrictive line wraps around fin insertions can lead to amputation, blood loss, impaired mobility, or infection. Dolphins with ingested gear or severe entanglements may swim away with the gear, but likely die later. Propeller injuries involving only soft tissue were often survivable. Some dolphins survived amputations of the distal ends of fins, and continued to reproduce. As a precautionary approach, dolphins with ingested gear or severe constrictive entanglements should be considered mortalities, but extrapolations of findings from coastal bottlenose dolphins to other cetaceans and different gear must be done with caution.

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