Occurrence of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Río Negro Estuary, Argentina, and their mid-distance movements along the northeastern Patagonian coast
A systematic study was carried out on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Río Negro Estuary (RNE), Patagonia, Argentina, to analyze their occurrence and activity patterns in this region. The photo-identification data of this study was further compared to data from an adjacent region to gain information on the animals' movements along the northeastern Patagonian coast. Information was gathered through land-based observations between the
months of March and July of 2008 up to 2011. Data on dolphin activity patterns were collected via an ad libitum focal-group sampling mode. At the same time, dorsal fin images were obtained from as many dolphins as possible for
identification and subsequent re-identification of individuals. Total effort equaled 188h, resulting in 58h of observation of 124 dolphin groups [sightings per unit effort (SPUE) = 0.66 group/h]. Most of the groups observed contained between one and five individuals, and two main activity states could be determined, namely traveling (65%) and foraging (26%). The photo-identification effort, which started opportunistically in 2006, resulted in a catalogue of 17 individual dolphins, with a total mean re-identification rate of nine days (max. = 24 days). When comparing these pictures to the existing catalogue of Bahía San Antonio (BSA; approximately 200km west from the study area) dorsal fins of 15 individuals could be matched and most (n = 12) could be subsequently re-identified in both areas, indicating their long distance movements along the northeastern Patagonian coast during the austral autumn months. This season
coincides with the lowest dolphin abundance and feeding activity in BSA. This study indicates that bottlenose dolphins enter the RNE to forage at least during autumn. It further suggests that the search for food resources is the main trigger for their movement patterns along the northeastern Patagonian coast during this season, at least for certain individuals. More research is needed to accurately confirm these hypotheses.
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