Female reproductive parameters and population demographics of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland
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This study investigates the female reproductive parameters and population demographics of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland, using long-term relational sightings and photographic databases. Data were collected between 2008 and 2016, during 654 boat-based surveys, from two dolphin-watching vessels and a research vessel. During 1018 sightings, 4231 identifications of 184 individual dolphins were recorded. The population size was charted through direct counts of known dolphins from 2011 to 2015 (mean 142, range 131–150), with 145 extant individuals in 2015: 80 adults, 25 juveniles, and 40 calves. Excluding dependent calves, 121 individuals were sighted, of whom 98% (n = 119) were sighted in multiple years, with 64% (n = 77) sighted in all 4 years (2012–2015). Between 2008 and 2016, 37 reproductive females and 69 dependent calves were recorded. Overall, 35% (n = 13) of these females were sighted with one calf, 43% (n = 16) with two calves and 22% (n = 8) with three calves. An average of seven (range 3–10) calves were born each year. Parturition peaked in July. Weaning ages ranged from 2.0 to 4.1 (mean 2.9) years. The mean inter-birth interval ranged between 2.7 ± 0.6 and 3.5 ± 1.3 years, depending on the method used. Mean annual calving rate was 0.29 young-of-year/reproductive female/year. Average crude birth rate was 0.07 ± 0.01. Fecundity was 0.26 ± 0.03. An average 11% of newborn calves were lost before age 1. These results are generally within the lower range of values reported for similar populations and provide essential data for conservation management and global bottlenose dolphin research.
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