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Revista de Biología Tropical

On-line version ISSN 0034-7744Print version ISSN 0034-7744


FELIX, Fernando; ZAVALA, Melanie  and  CENTENO, Ruby. Spatial distribution, social structure and conservation threats of a small community of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncates (Odontoceti: Delphinidae) in Ecuador. Rev. biol. trop [online]. 2019, vol.67, n.4, pp.1059-1076. ISSN 0034-7744.

A resident community of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) has been studied irregularly between 2005 and 2018 around the tip of the Santa Elena Peninsula, Ecuador (2°11' S & 81°0.7' W). Opportunistic sightings and systematic surveys from the beach and at sea were carried out along 40 km of coast, accounting for 917.2 km of tracking by car from land and 707.4 km of boat tracking by sea. Average group size was 5.31 dolphins/group (SD = 1.97, range 1-10), with no significant changes throughout the study period. From land, however, the group size was underestimated 32 % on the average. This small bottlenose dolphin community currently has only nine individuals, including six adults, one immature and two calves, and is the smallest community within the Gulf of Guayaquil. The encounter rate ranged between 0.03 dolphins/km in the northwestern part and 0.32 dolphins/km in the South, where dolphins concentrate their activities, possibly because human activities are less intense there. Dolphins were generally distributed in the first 200 m from the shore, reaching up to 1 200 m in the Northern shallower part and where port and tourist activities concentrate. The dolphins’ speed was significantly higher when they were followed from a boat at close range (5.87 km/h) than when they were monitored from the beach (2.9 km/h) (P < 0.01), which suggests that boat tracking had an effect on dolphin´s movements. Pairwise cluster analysis showed that animals from this community show high rates of association among each other (average 0.67, range 0.01-1.0), indicating that is a highly cohesive community. Dolphins also showed high level of residence (average occurrence index = 0.62). During the study, two main threats were identified, a gillnet fishery in the Southwestern part and an intense fishing boat traffic in the Northwestern. Most of the study area is currently part of a coastal-marine protected area created in 2008, which offers an opportunity for the recovery and conservation of this dolphin community. Given its fragility, we recommend the environmental authorities to address potential threats for this dolphin community by eliminating gillnets, implementing an exclusion zone for fishing gear and boat traffic of 1 km width from the shore and limit the speed of any type of vessel to 10 knots within the reserve.

Keywords : ecology; behavior; conservation and management; bottlenose dolphin; Tursiops truncates; anthropogenic threats; Ecuador.

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