Behavior of free-ranging common dolphins (Delphinus sp.) in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

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Abstract

Here we present the first data describing the behavior of common dolphins (Delphinus sp.) in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. Activity budgets are used to assess the effects of diel, season, depth, sea surface temperature, group size, and composition on dolphin behavior. Additionally, the presence/absence of Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera brydei) and Australasian gannet (Morus serrator) is examined in relation to dolphin behavior. Behavioral data were collected from 686 independent dolphin groups during boat-based surveys conducted between February 2002 and January 2005. Foraging (46.7%) and social (7.2%) were the most and least frequently observed behaviors, respectively. Travel (28.9%), mill (9.5%), and rest (7.7%) accounted for the remainder of the activity budget. Behavior varied seasonally, with the highest proportion of foraging and resting groups observed during the spring and autumn, respectively. Behavior also varied with water depth, with foraging animals observed in the deepest and resting groups recorded in the shallowest regions of the Hauraki Gulf. A correlation between group size and behavior was evident, although behavior did not vary with the composition of dolphin groups. Resting, milling, and socializing animals were more frequently observed in smaller group sizes. Foraging behavior was prevalent in both small and large group sizes, suggesting foraging plasticity exists within this population. Behavior differed between single- and multispecies groups, with foraging more frequent in multispecies groups. Resting, milling, or socializing was rarely observed in the presence of any associated species, indicating the primary mechanism for association is likely prey related.

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