Acoustic Monitoring of a Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) Population: Trends in Presence and Foraging beyond the Limits of the Lower River Shannon SAC
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The Shannon dolphins are a population of bottlenose dolphins resident year round within the Lower River Shannon SAC, Ireland, which has been designated to protect this relatively small, genetically discrete population. Although trends in habitat use and foraging have been studied within the estuary, little is known about the movements of the Shannon dolphins outside the boundaries of the SAC, and whether any other foraging hotspots exist for this population outside of the estuary. The purpose of this study was to explore the presence and foraging behavior of these dolphins in adjacent waters located 20–30 km to the southwest of the Lower River Shannon SAC. Static acoustic monitoring was carried out with C-PODs deployed in Ballyheigue Bay, Brandon Bay, and around the Maharees between May and November 2013. A GEE-GLM modelling approach was then used to analyze potential significant environmental predictors of presence and foraging by bottlenose dolphins at these sites. Brandon Bay was found to be a site of particular importance for the Shannon population, where dolphins were present on 92% of days monitored and foraging occurring on 20% of all monitored hours. The results of this study indicate that Brandon Bay is a potentially important habitat for the Shannon dolphins and further support designation of this site as a candidate SAC. However, long-term acoustic monitoring should be conducted at all sites to identify relative use of the areas at year-round and inter-annual scales.
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