Factors related to common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) seasonal migration along South Carolina and Georgia coasts, USA

Anna R Taylor 1 , John H Schacke 2 , Todd R Speakman 3 , Steven B Castleberry 4 ,  and Richard B Chandler 1
  • 1 Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources University of Georgia
  • 2 Georgia Dolphin Ecology Program
  • 3 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • 4 University of Georgia,Athens, Georgia United States


Little is known about common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) seasonal migration along the United States southeastern Atlantic coast, or what factors influence migratory patterns. Therefore, our objectives were to: 1) document evidence for seasonal movement of dolphins in this region (that would indicate migratory behavior) and 2) determine if seasonal changes in abundance and temporary emigration (i.e., migration indicators) for dolphins along South Carolina and Georgia coasts are related to changes in water quality variables. Previously collected capturerecapture data (from visual sightings of individual dolphins) and water quality data from Charleston, South Carolina and St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia were used to achieve our objective. Robust design models were used to estimate seasonal abundance and temporary emigration for the Charleston population, whereas closed population capture-recapture models were used to estimate seasonal abundances for the St. Catherine’s Island population. The Charleston population showed seasonal abundance and temporary emigration patterns with low estimates in winter, which increased in spring, peaked in summer, and decreased in fall. Seasonal temporary emigration was best explained by water temperature, which followed the same general pattern. Seasonal abundance in the St. Catherine’s population was best explained by salinity, but no consistent pattern in abundance was observed. Our results not only provide the first evidence of a clear seasonal migration of dolphins in this region, but can aid in conservation and management efforts by increasing accuracy of abundance estimates.

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