Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Research Article

Immediate response of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to high-speed personal watercraft in the Mississippi Sound

Lance J. Millera1 c1, Moby Solangia2 and Stan A. Kuczaj IIa1

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Southern Mississippi, 118 College Drive #5025, Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5025, USA

a2 Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, PO Box 4078, Gulfport, MS 39502, USA

Abstract

Measuring the impact of anthropogenic factors on marine mammals is critical to the conservation of these species. Recently, the effect of personal watercraft on marine mammal behaviour and well-being has become a topic of increasing concern. The purpose of this study was to examine the immediate effects of high-speed personal watercraft on Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) behaviour. Opportunistic surveys were conducted from a research vessel in the Mississippi Sound (30º13′22.6″N 89º01′36.5″W) from September 2003 through to August 2005. The passing of a high-speed personal watercraft significantly increased dolphin dive duration, dolphin group cohesion and dolphin breathing synchrony. Additionally, in 47% of the encounters a dolphin group's behaviour changed within one minute of the presence of a high-speed personal watercraft. The most notable changes were an increase in dolphin travelling behaviour and a decrease in feeding behaviour following the boat's presence. The results demonstrated an immediate, short-term change in dolphin behaviour, suggesting that an increase in the frequency of high-speed personal watercraft in this area could produce long-term detrimental effects. Research on the long-term effects of boat traffic on marine mammals is clearly needed to assess and hopefully mediate any potential long-term effects.

(Received July 30 2007)

(Accepted January 12 2008)

(Online publication March 17 2008)

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Lance J. Miller, Department of Psychology, University of Southern Mississippi, 118 College Drive #5025, Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5025, USA email: lancejmiller@hotmail.com