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Keywords:

  • Gas platforms;
  • photo–identification;
  • resource islands

Abstract

Common bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, were surveyed in offshore gas fields off Ravenna, Italy, between Spring and Autumn, 2001–2005. These visual surveys provide the first density estimates of bottlenose dolphins in the Northwestern Adriatic Sea south of the Po River. Since no study has examined the distribution of bottlenose dolphins relative to gas platforms, when dolphins were encountered, their distance from the nearest gas platform was estimated and behaviour was assessed. Dolphins were sighted on ca. 36% of survey trips, which varied in duration from 1 to 6 h. Group size ranged from 1 to ~50 individuals, with no seasonal trend evident in the likelihood of encounter. Dolphin density was estimated to be approximately 80% higher within 750 m of gas platforms, relative to densities >750 m from platforms, although variability around the estimates was high. From a limited number of behavioural observations, slightly higher frequencies of feeding and milling behaviour were observed closer to gas platforms, whereas dolphins observed further away exhibited higher frequencies of socialising and travelling. Gas platforms are known to provide habitat for demersal fishes and act as aggregation points for pelagic fishes, and these data provide some support for the idea that bottlenose dolphins may utilise gas platforms opportunistically as feeding sites.