Occurrence, abundance and some ecological aspects of the offshore bottlenose dolphin off Ecuador’s central coast
The presence of the offshore bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is poorly understood for most of the southeast Pacific Ocean. Its wide distribution, low density, and lack of understanding of its ecology make the species unpredictable to observe and difficult to study compared to the coastal ecotype. We assessed the occurrence of offshore bottlenose dolphins off the central coast of Ecuador (01°36’ S, 80°58’ W) using information taken from 2001 to 2022. Data were collected by two research groups based 80 km apart, one in Puerto López (north) and the other in Salinas (south). A total of 48 dolphin groups were documented, 22 at Puerto López and 26 at Salinas. In Puerto López, 163 dolphins were individually identified, of which 70 intra-annual sightings and 102 inter-annual sightings were found. Inter-annual resightings at Puerto López corresponded to 55 individuals (33.7%) recorded between two and 17 years (mean = 5.82 years, SD = 5.1). In Salinas, 58 dolphins were identified, without intra-annual resightings and only two inter-annual sightings. Only one individual was recorded in both areas. Two site fidelity indexes were calculated, Occurrence (Oi) and Permanence (Pi), resulting in 11 and 13.7 times higher respectively, in Puerto López. The abundance at Puerto López, 163 animals (95% CI, 120 - 203) in 2021-2022, was estimated with a closed population model. The prevalence of scars associated with previous encounters with fishing gear was 43.6%, commensal barnacle (Xenobalanus globicipitis) infestation 42.3%, predation 3.6%, and dermal nodules 0.61%. Our findings suggest both site fidelity and some degree of population structure, but additional monitoring and genetic studies are needed to clarify these aspects. Nevertheless, this study provides information on key aspects necessary for developing conservation strategies for offshore bottlenose dolphins.
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