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Survival, density, and abundance of common bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay (USA) following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

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Trent L. McDonald, Fawn E. Hornsby, Todd R. Speakman, Eric S. Zolman, Keith D. Mullin, Carrie Sinclair, Patricia E. Rosel, Len Thomas, Lori H. Schwacke

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Abstract

To assess potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, we conducted boat-based photo-identification surveys for common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, USA (~230 km2, located 167 km WNW of the spill center). Crews logged 838 h of survey effort along pre-defined routes on 10 occasions between late June 2010 and early May 2014. We applied a previously unpublished spatial version of the robust design capture-recapture model to estimate survival and density. This model used photo locations to estimate density in the absence of study area boundaries and to separate mortality from permanent emigration. To estimate abundance, we applied density estimates to saltwater (salinity > ~8 ppt) areas of the bay where telemetry data suggested that dolphins reside. Annual dolphin survival varied between 0.80 and 0.85 (95% CIs varied from 0.77 to 0.90) over 3 yr following the Deepwater Horizon spill. In 2 non-oiled bays (in Florida and North Carolina), historic survival averages approximately 0.95. From June to November 2010, abundance increased from 1300 (95% CI ± ~130) to 3100 (95% CI ± ~400), then declined and remained between ~1600 and ~2400 individuals until spring 2013. In fall 2013 and spring 2014, abundance increased again to approximately 3100 individuals. Dolphin abundance prior to the spill was unknown, but we hypothesize that some dolphins moved out of the sampled area, probably northward into marshes, prior to initiation of our surveys in late June 2010, and later immigrated back into the sampled area.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-209
Number of pages17
JournalEndangered Species Research
Volume33
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2017

    Research areas

  • Capture-recapture, Photo-identification, Robust design, Spatial-capture model, Tursiops truncatus

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