Article

Nature-based tourism and the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops spp. in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

Nature-based tourism targeting cetaceans is a billion dollar industry that continues to grow. Therefore, the ecological effects of this industry require investigation. Inshore marine wildlife, such as coastal populations of dolphins that have become tourism targets, is affected by human activities in the coastal zone, and tourism may be an additional stressor. The focus of marine wildlife tourism in southern Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia, is a coastal population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.). Commercial dolphin-swim and dolphin-watch operations seek out dolphins. This study monitored activity budgets of bottlenose dolphins at one site, in the presence and absence of vessels during a two-year period through land-based observations. The results demonstrate a significant decreased likelihood of bottlenose dolphins engaging in feeding behaviour when vessels were present. Schools with calves were significantly larger than groups without and vessel presence resulted in larger schools regardless of school composition. Results also indicated that the number of dolphins observed at the study site were lower during afternoon ebb tides and on afternoon slack tides. The significance of their reduced feeding in the long-term conservation of these dolphins will remain unclear until information is available on their behaviour in areas into which tourist operators do not venture.

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... While these experiences provide visitors with the up-close interaction they desire, the negative impacts to dolphins can be numerous (see Section 4.0). As dolphins are social animals, many aspects of their natural behaviour can be interrupted by the impacts of tourism (Orams 2002;Scarpaci, Nugegoda and Corkeron 2010;Steckenreuter, Möller and Harcourt 2012). A conceptual model for the tensions associated with the feeding of wild dolphins for tourism is provided by Figure 1. the feeding of wild dolphins to enhance the tourism experience contrasted with the tension between feeding and visitor concern for dolphin welfare. ...
... The time spent resting, feeding, and socialising are important activities for reproductive success in dolphins (Peters et al. 2013). One of the most commonly studied impacts of human-dolphin interactions concerns how boat traffic associated with dolphin watching and swim-with experiences affects the time wild dolphins spend foraging (Dans et al. 2008;Meissner et al. 2015;Scarpaci et al. 2010;Wiener 2015). The contradictory studies of Steckenreuter et al. (2012) and Trone, Kuczaj and Solangi (2005), among others, illustrate the complexity of studying the impacts that arise due to interactions between wild dolphins and tourist boats. ...
... Many authors describe the impacts of feeding on the social behaviour of wild dolphins, which are ecologically important as dolphins feed and live in social groups, and it has been reported that some provisioned dolphins have even become solitary animals (Dans et al. 2008;Orams 1997;Scarpaci et al. 2010). ...
... Thus, these dolphins likely expend greater levels of time and energy during SWD tourism interactions, with possible missed opportunities for foraging and socialising (including mating, Filby et al. 2014). This is of concern, given recent research indicating that PPB is an important foraging and nursery ground for Burrunan dolphins (Scarpaci et al. 2010, Filby et al. 2017) and that groups containing calves are those most likely to avoid SWD vessels (Filby et al. 2014). ...
... The time series of behavioural states resulting from each focal follow was first tallied into 2 contingency tables, one for control and one for impact scenarios. From the resulting matrices, the transition probability between the preceding behavioural state and the succeeding behavioural state was estimated (Lusseau 2003a, Christiansen et al. 2010 Shane et al. 1986, Scarpaci et al. 2010, Filby et al. 2013 lations, see the 'Transition probabilities' section in the Supplement at www. int-res.com/ articles/ suppl/ n032 p479 _ supp. ...
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Burrunan dolphins Tursiops australis are frequently targeted by tourism operations in Port Phillip Bay, Australia. This study aimed to provide first insights into whether swim-with-dolphin vessels in Port Phillip Bay affect the behaviour of Burrunan dolphins via the use of Markov chain models. The presence of swim-with-dolphin vessels affected dolphins’ travelling, foraging, milling and socialising behaviours. The time Burrunan dolphins spent foraging in the presence of swim-with-dolphin vessels was significantly reduced, with average foraging bout length decreasing by 13.6%, foraging recovery time increasing by 47.6%, and the probability of transitioning from foraging to milling increasing 4-fold. Conversely, dolphins spent significantly more time milling and socialising in the presence of swim-with-dolphin vessels. The reduction in time spent foraging when swim-with-dolphin vessels are present could lead to a decrease in dolphins’ rate of energy acquisition, whilst the increase in milling could increase their energy expenditure. Collectively, this may lead to reduced biological fitness with population level consequences. However, although the short-term behavioural budget of the dolphin population was significantly affected, swim-with-dolphin vessels did not significantly affect the cumulative (i.e. yearly) behavioural budget of Burrunan dolphins. Thus, the assumption that boat-based cetacean tourism has major negative effects on targeted populations may be flawed.
... Thus, these dolphins likely expend greater levels of time and energy during SWD tourism interactions, with possible missed opportunities for foraging and socialising (including mating, Filby et al. 2014). This is of concern, given recent research indicating that PPB is an important foraging and nursery ground for Burrunan dolphins (Scarpaci et al. 2010, Filby et al. 2017) and that groups containing calves are those most likely to avoid SWD vessels (Filby et al. 2014). ...
... The time series of behavioural states resulting from each focal follow was first tallied into 2 contingency tables, one for control and one for impact scenarios. From the resulting matrices, the transition probability between the preceding behavioural state and the succeeding behavioural state was estimated (Lusseau 2003a, Christiansen et al. 2010 Shane et al. 1986, Scarpaci et al. 2010, Filby et al. 2013 lations, see the 'Transition probabilities' section in the Supplement at www. int-res.com/ articles/ suppl/ n032 p479 _ supp. ...
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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are increasingly used to protect marine mammals from anthropogenic threats despite limited studies that assess their efficacy. The small population of Burrunan dolphins (Tursiops australis) that inhabit Port Phillip Bay (PPB), Australia, are genetically isolated, listed as threatened and are exposed to dolphin-swim tourism. This study aimed to identify areas within PPB where dolphins are most likely to rest, forage and socialise, and whether these behaviours occur frequently within Ticonderoga Bay Sanctuary Zone (TBSZ), the only protected area designated for dolphins within PPB. Here, a comprehensive activity budget for Burrunan dolphins was established and critical habitat identified. Behavioural data were collected from 51 independent dolphin groups during 67 boat-based surveys conducted in southern PPB between December 2009 and May 2013. Travel (63.9%) and rest (1.8%) were the most and least frequently observed behaviours, respectively. Forage (16.4%), mill (10.8%) and social (7.2%) accounted for the remainder of the activity budget. Results indicate that the broader PPB region is important for foraging, socialising and nursing dolphins, while TBSZ has proven importance for foraging dolphins. Thus, the implementation of TBSZ was a correct management decision and MPAs developed without baseline data can be effective for marine mammal conservation. Three candidate MPAs were objectively identified in areas that are hotspots for foraging and socialising Burrunan dolphins in southern PPB. The findings of this study will be used to inform current conservation management strategies. If implemented, the aim of the proposed MPAs will be to reduce impacts from anthropogenic disturbance, namely dolphin-swim tour vessels.
... Avoidance behaviours, or transition between behaviours have been recorded, including the cessation of feeding or resting (e.g. Williams et al., 2002a,b;Williams, 2011;Constantine et al., 2003Constantine et al., , 2004Coscarella et al., 2003;Lusseau, 2003Lusseau, , 2004Lusseau, , 2006Jahoda et al., 2003;Ö stman-Lind et al., 2004;Samuels and Bejder, 2004;Scheidat et al., 2004;Bejder et al., 2006;Lemon et al., 2006;Richter et al., 2006;Underhill, 2006;Morete et al., 2007;Yazdi, 2007;Arcangeli and Crosti, 2009;Christiansen et al., 2010;Scarpaci et al., 2010;Schaffar et al., 2009Schaffar et al., , 2013Stamation et al., 2009;Steckenreuter et al., 2011Steckenreuter et al., , 2012Montero-Cordero and Lobo, 2010;Lundquist, 2011;Visser et al., 2011;Lundquist et al., 2012;Steckenreuter et al., 2012;Machernis, 2014;Symons et al., 2014;Patroni et al., 2019;Sprogis et al., 2020). Repeated vessel interactions could make these reactions, though typically only observed in the direct presence of vessels, have a more significant outcome to both individual and population success than is currently considered (e.g. ...
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The interactions between wildlife tourism operators and the animals that they rely on are complex. For commercial whale watching, the recognition of the potential disturbance from the vessels generates uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of management strategies for it to remain a ‘no-take’ practice. This warrants further evaluation. In this study, we analysed the activities of the whale watching fleet in Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, to evaluate industry sustainability and its ability to meet legislated conservation objectives. Visual observations gave context to an analysis of the communications of the fleet, made using Very High Frequency (VHF) marine radio. Transcription of these communications demonstrated three main themes; whale location, whale ‘transfers’ between operators, and encounter or ‘show’ quality. Cumulative encounter times from the fleet far exceeded the 30-minute limit recommended in the whale watching guidelines. Killer whales (Orcinus orca) were subject to the longest periods of vessel presence, with an average time spent in active encounters of 4.21 ±1.96 hours. This extended to almost the full operating day if whales remained within a feasible travelling distance of Tofino. Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) encounters also exceeded the suggested time limit by 2.40 ± 1.73 hours and 1.31 ±1.07 hours, respectively. Increased education and the addition of spatial and temporal restrictions in management regimes could address the shortcomings of the current system to minimize potential disturbance to whales from commercial whale watching encounters and facilitate sustainable industry practices.
... Avoidance behaviours, or transition between behaviours have been recorded, including the cessation of feeding or resting (e.g. Williams et al., 2002a,b;Williams, 2011;Constantine et al., 2003Constantine et al., , 2004Coscarella et al., 2003;Lusseau, 2003Lusseau, , 2004Lusseau, , 2006Jahoda et al., 2003;Ö stman-Lind et al., 2004;Samuels and Bejder, 2004;Scheidat et al., 2004;Bejder et al., 2006;Lemon et al., 2006;Richter et al., 2006;Underhill, 2006;Morete et al., 2007;Yazdi, 2007;Arcangeli and Crosti, 2009;Christiansen et al., 2010;Scarpaci et al., 2010;Schaffar et al., 2009Schaffar et al., , 2013Stamation et al., 2009;Steckenreuter et al., 2011Steckenreuter et al., , 2012Montero-Cordero and Lobo, 2010;Lundquist, 2011;Visser et al., 2011;Lundquist et al., 2012;Steckenreuter et al., 2012;Machernis, 2014;Symons et al., 2014;Patroni et al., 2019;Sprogis et al., 2020). Repeated vessel interactions could make these reactions, though typically only observed in the direct presence of vessels, have a more significant outcome to both individual and population success than is currently considered (e.g. ...
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Recognition of the potential disturbance from whale-based tourism has stimulated the discussion of whether whale watching remains ‘no take’. Here we use observations and passive acoustic surveillance of tourism activities of foraging gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) on the west coast of Vancouver Island to better understand the pressures on whales that are repeatedly subject to aerial and vessel-based viewing. Pressure from the fleet was greatest for low prey years, whereby fewer whales were subject to a greater number of encounters with whale watching vessels. The pressure on operators for close encounters was also greater during these years. The acoustic recordings found that whale watching vessels shaped the soundscape, with a distinct diurnal pattern. Acoustic reactions by the whales were also noted. Cow-calf pairs showed increased calling rate in the presence of vessels in the feeding bay, with calling rate of single foraging whales increasing as vessel number, particularly those engaged in whale watching, increased. These responses have implications for energetics, communication success. The implications of acoustic disturbance from whale watching has yet to be well defined, but it is only one of many stressors that gray whales are subject to. The results of this study lead us to argue for greater evidence-based management of whale watching; restrictions on encounters; noise emission limitations; requiems for the whales, and a greater interpretative component for passengers. The aggregate and cumulative effects of disturbance should also be emphasized in vessel-whale interaction guidelines, with the most vulnerable individuals removed from the viewing resource altogether.
... Port Phillip supports a resident population of 80-100 bottlenose dolphins that have been the subject of considerable study in recent decades by the Dolphin Research Institute and by geneticists based at Monash University. These studies have focused on behaviour, distribution and population processes (Scarpaci et al. 2003), the impact of 'swim with the dolphins' tourism (Scarpaci et al. 2010), and on the taxonomic identity of the dolphins. Importantly, the Port Phillip bottlenose dolphins belong to a newly described species that also occurs in sub-populations in a few shallow embayments across southern Australia, including the Gippsland Lakes (Charlton-Robb et al. 2011). ...
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... As in many humpback whale populations [6], individuals in the Oceania population are known to respond to disturbance, showing increases in dive time and decreased linearity of swim path when boats are within 1000 m of whales [7]. More generally, swim-with cetacean programs have been shown to increase individuals' travel speed, reorientation rates, surface activity, time spent travelling, and avoidance responses, and reduce time spent feeding [8][9][10][11][12][13][14]. Mother/calf pairs are the most likely to be disturbed [15]. ...
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The Oceania population of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) using Tongan waters is a listed Endangered subpopulation that supports a large swim-with whale industry focussed primarily on mothers and calves. This raises concerns about the industry's potential to impact on the subpopulation's breeding success and recovery. This study investigated whether whales responded differently to approaches by swimmers from boats than to boat approaches alone and whether different types of swimming (quiet approach, loud splashing or diving following a quiet approach) induced different avoidance responses. An avoidance response was defined as whales moving away from boats or swimmers and the strength of the response was defined by how far the whales moved away and whether there was an increase in surface activity. Animals responded more quickly to a loud splashing approach than to quiet approaches. There were no significant differences in measures relating to the strength of the response caused by swim type, however closer approaches by a boat did significantly increase the level of whale activity. These results suggest that managing swimmer behaviour around whales, particularly ensuring quiet approaches, will contribute to the ability of the industry to minimise disturbance of the animals and support the industry's sustainability.
... Recent research (Scarpaci, Nugegoda, & Corkeron, 2010), supports the TBSZ as an important dolphin foraging ground and the recent discovery that this relatively small dolphin population is one of only two known endemic populations of T. australis sp. nov. ...
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