ABS 2022
Environmental Predictors of Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Behavior in Chincoteague, VA
Abigail A. Parker, Keith A. Tarvin. Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, United States

The common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is an extensively studied marine mammal species found throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Along the east coast of the United States, both migratory and resident populations exist. The understudied northern migratory population migrates seasonally, overwintering in North Carolina and travelling north during warm water months. We combined land-based behavioral observations of migratory dolphins at the southernmost boundary of their summer migration range with measures of sea floor topography and other environmental variables to assess the influence of environmental factors on milling and traveling behavior. Milling behavior was positively associated with time of day, benthic slope, and benthic slope range during high, falling tide, and it was negatively associated with wind speed. These patterns suggest that prey availability strongly influences dolphin behavior in Chincoteague. Notably, this is one of few studies that have evaluated the effect of environmental variables on migratory bottlenose dolphins in the western north Atlantic, making it a valuable tool for informing conservation measures and successful population management.