The objective of my Master’s thesis project, which is in its early stages, is to evaluate and map the possible relationships between distributions of bottlenose dolphins and recreational boating activities in Sarasota Bay.
Wildlife-vehicle interactions can have large direct and indirect effects on animal populations. Bottlenose dolphins are known to be impacted both physically and behaviorally by motorized vessels in their habitat. This is of great concern in Florida, the state with the greatest number of registered recreational boats. Boating in Sarasota Bay is a very popular activity and it shares the bay waters with a resident dolphin population. As indicated in several previous scientific publications from the SDRP, this represents a high potential for disturbance.
In this study I will integrate two main databases. The first database is a digitized representation of recreational boating patterns in Sarasota Bay that stems from a map-based mail survey implemented in 2005 by the Florida Sea Grant. The second consists of 3 years of dolphin distribution data extracted from the long-term sighting database of the SDRP. With the help of Geographical Information System software I seek to answer to answer the following questions:
- Is there a relation between the distribution patterns of recreational boating and bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay?
- Do the distribution patterns change during the year in response to increments in boat traffic?
- Where are the main hotspots of recreational boating and dolphins in the bay? Do the hotspots change in different seasons?
- Is there more intense clustering at certain times of the year?
- Are dolphins moving to shallower areas when boat traffic increases in the bay?
- Are the dolphin groups moving to shallower areas significantly different in composition (Specifically are there more mothers with calves in these groups)? If so, are the mothers taking shelter experienced or first-time mothers?
I am hopeful that the study results will constitute a helpful and powerful addition to the current knowledge base of the Sarasota Bay dolphin population and potentially be useful in management, outreach, and education applications in Sarasota Bay and elsewhere.
This article appeared on page 6 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.