Behavioural ecology of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) and interactions with humans in Southeast Queensland, Australia

Brieze, Ilze (2003). Behavioural ecology of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) and interactions with humans in Southeast Queensland, Australia PhD Thesis, School of Integrative Biology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Brieze, Ilze
Thesis Title Behavioural ecology of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) and interactions with humans in Southeast Queensland, Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Integrative Biology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Assoc. Prof. J. Blackshaw
Dr. L. Hall
Total pages 390
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subjects L
270702 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)
630399 Fish not elsewhere classified
Formatted abstract
Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) are widely distributed, being found in all warm and temperate waters throughout the world. They are commonly sighted in southeast Queensland, Australia and populations exist in Moreton Bay and off the coastline of North Stradbroke Island. Given the proximity of these populations to centres of human settlement and activity, it is not surprising that opportunities for interaction between dolphins and humans have arisen. Historically, dolphins and humans are known to have engaged in cooperative fishing ventures at a number of sites within the region. In the present day, dolphins in Moreton Bay follow trawlers to feed on fish disturbed by the nets or subsequently discarded from the catch, dolphins approach vessels to bow ride and a group of dolphins attends nightly provisioning sessions at Tangalooma on Moreton Island. The general public is also able to view and interact with dolphins at close range in a captive setting, at Sea World, on the Gold Coast. This facility offers a "Swim with dolphins" program enabling members of the public to enter a pool containing several dolphins and spend time interacting with them. Given the public's strong interest in dolphins, and the opportunities that exist for human-dolphin contact, it is important that any interaction be monitored and appropriately managed to ensure a satisfactory outcome for both people and dolphins. A good knowledge of dolphins' usual behaviour and ecology is required to underpin effective monitoring and management.

To address a lack of quantitative investigation and reporting of cetacean behaviour in the literature, this study conducted the first behaviour sequence analysis of bottlenose dolphin behaviour, based on observations of free-ranging dolphins in Moreton Bay and off the coastline of North Stradbroke Island. Major findings included a close association between sexual behaviour and aggressive and other social behaviour, indicating the importance of sexual behaviour to bottlenose dolphins' social lives, a lack of associations between feeding behaviour and other behaviours, reflecting bottlenose dolphins' feeding strategies, and the tendency for many behavioural events to have associations with more than one behavioural category, highlighting the importance of context to the correct interpretation of dolphin behaviour.

Boat-based surveys were used to obtain information on the behaviour and ecology of bottlenose dolphins off the west coast of Moreton Island. In addition to providing useful regional information, the findings were used to provide the first assessment of the effects of provisioning at Tangalooma through a comparison of the results for provisioned and non-provisioned dolphins in the area. Major findings included bottlenose dolphins being relatively widely distributed throughout the area and mostly occurring in small, travelling groups, over one-third of which contained calves. Group size and composition, behaviour and distribution were subject to seasonal and environmental influences. No obvious negative effects of provisioning were detected. The physical attributes of the location and the management regime, that limited human-dolphin contact, were likely to be responsible although, at the time this study was conducted (when the program had been in place for approximately one and a half years through to approximately two and a half years), it may have been too early for any negative effects of provisioning to have become apparent, highlighting the requirement for ongoing monitoring. The findings establish baseline information against which the results of any future investigations into the longer-term effects of provisioning may be compared.

The behaviour and interactions with humans of bottlenose dolphins participating in a captive "Swim with dolphins" program offered by Sea World, Australia were recorded to examine the nature of human-dolphin interaction, determine the effect of the program on the behaviour of participating dolphins and compare the efficacy of "Controlled" and "Not-Controlled" swim sessions. This was the first study undertaken of the program, conducted in two stages; initially, soon after the program had commenced and again, after a six-month interval following a change in format. Major findings included individual differences in dolphin behaviour and sociability that could be used to determine individual animals' suitability for inclusion in the program, usual dolphin behaviour was altered during swim sessions, more so during "Controlled" rather than "Not-Controlled" sessions, most interaction was initiated by humans rather than dolphins, was of a brief rather than sustained nature and did not involve physical contact, and human behaviour was important in determining the extent and nature of human-dolphin interaction. The incidence of "inappropriate" dolphin behaviour increased over time but was addressed by the introduction of "Controlled" swim sessions; these are preferred over "Not-Controlled" swim sessions due to their capacity for controlling both human and dolphin behaviour, thereby minimising opportunities for negative or hazardous interactions.

Concurrent with the investigations of the Tangalooma "Hand feeding of dolphins" program and the Sea World "Swim with dolphins" program, participants in each were surveyed using pre- and post-experience questionnaires to obtain demographic information on people who chose to interact with dolphins, determine people's motivations for participating in the programs, assess people's attitudes towards dolphins and whether these changed following their interaction with the animals, and evaluate their perceptions of the experience. Major findings included females and younger people indicating stronger interest in dolphins than males and older people, backed up by their higher rates of participation in both programs. Although reporting low levels of knowledge of dolphins, people held very positive attitudes towards them that became even more so following their participation in both programs and satisfaction ratings for both programs were very high. Little actual interaction with dolphins was required for people to be satisfied with their experience indicating that it was possible to minimise contact, thereby reducing risks to the dolphins, without detracting significantly from people's enjoyment. Although the findings for both programs were similar, suggesting that similar types of people, motivated primarily by a desire to get close to dolphins, participated in both, some differences with respect to people's attitudes and perceptions were identified and discussed.

This study makes recommendations for use in commercial operations offering opportunities for people to view and interact with dolphins. Suggestions for future research to build on the findings reported here are offered.
Keyword Bottlenose dolphins

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:09:40 EST