On-going Studies Links
The juvenile period is important for young dolphins who must learn to navigate complex social and ecological environments when they become independent of their mothers.
This research focuses on the social and behavioral development of juvenile bottlenose dolphins. It helps us understand factors influencing the survival of independent juveniles.
The research combines long-term sighting and mortality data from the Sarasota dolphin community, with new information collected via focal animal observations. That means we followed individually-identifiable juvenile dolphins and record details of their behavior.
Fieldwork from 2005 through 2008 included nearly 600 hours of focal-follows to collect behavioral data on 27 individuals (14 females and 13 males; ages: 2 to 13). Most dolphins were observed in each field season.
Results suggest that behaviors and relationships of young dolphins change over time. Several males began forming alliances. Some females joined adult female networks as they grew closer to sexual maturity and becoming first-time mothers. Seasonal differences in behaviors, and changes in sociality and ranging patterns were evident as juveniles matured.
Two field seasons coincidentally took place during periods with severe red tide blooms in Sarasota Bay. Behavior patterns of juveniles differed during red tide and non-red tide periods.
Social behavior, activity budgets, and ranging patterns were substantially altered during red tides. These differences are most likely due to changes in relative prey availability and prey distribution.
Support for this project has come from the Chicago Zoological Society, NOAA Fisheries, the UC Davis Graduate Scholars Fellowship in Animal Behavior, the Animal Behavior Society’s Cetacean Behavior and Conservation Award, and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
All photos © Sarasota Dolphin Research Program under NMFS permit #522-1785