Social structure within the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) population in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland
Gerritsen, Hans D.
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The Shannon Estuary is home to Ireland’s only known resident population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and is designated as a candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) for this species. Proper conservation management of these dolphins requires an understanding of the social structure of this population. Four years of photo-identification data (2005 to 2009, excluding 2007) were used to construct sociograms that comple-ment a cluster analysis of individually marked dol-phins and their associates. The results found little evidence of social stability or group fidelity for this study’s dolphin population. Analysis of dol-phins observed in consecutive years showed that the probability of group members encountering an individual dolphin in the second year did not depart from a random model. The social parameters for this resident population seem to be typical for this species. Bottlenose dolphins are found to exhibit a highly fluid, dynamic social structure within which individuals change their composition and associates regularly. These dolphins in the Shannon Estuary appear to live in a fission-fusion based society.
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