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Keywords:

  • bottlenose dolphin;
  • Tursiops truncatus;
  • New Jersey;
  • photo identification;
  • stock structure;
  • site fidelity;
  • discovery curve;
  • habitat

Abstract

Coastal bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) form a mosaic of resident and seasonal migratory populations along the United States Atlantic seaboard. Seasonal, poorly known migrants (identified as a separate stock) move as far north as New Jersey. During 2003–2005, 73 boat-based photo-identification surveys were conducted in southern New Jersey to discern seasonal occurrence, distribution, and patterns of movement and site fidelity. Neonates, young-of-year, and adults occurred in the study area from late May through late September, corresponding to water temperatures of 14.0–16.3°C. Of 205 individuals identified, 44% (n= 90) were sighted multiple times within or among years, including 10% (n= 20) of individuals identified in all 3 yr. Almost half (47%) of the multiple sightings were observed along a core area encompassed by the southern part of the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. In contrast to stocks studied in southern coastal areas of the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, estuaries were used significantly less than open-beach habitat, which is consistent with the relative prey abundance in these habitats. Research at additional sites will help confirm whether bottlenose dolphins at the northern end of their migratory range exhibit local site fidelity and habitat preferences similar to those found in this study.