Marine Biology

, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 661–673 | Cite as

Using mark-recapture and stranding data to estimate reproductive traits in female bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) of the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean

  • Pedro F. FruetEmail author
  • Rodrigo Cezar Genoves
  • Luciana M. Möller
  • Silvina Botta
  • Eduardo R. Secchi
Original Paper


Despite bottlenose dolphins being well studied in several regions around the world, there is very limited information about the reproduction of these animals in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean (SWA). In this study, data from a long-term mark-recapture and stranding monitoring program were used to estimate life history traits of female bottlenose dolphins inhabiting the Patos Lagoon estuary, a sub-tropical coastal region in the SWA. From the analysis of 32,296 high-quality dorsal fin photographs, the fate of 37 individual females and 66 of their calves was tracked. Results supported a birth pulse dolphin community, with most births occurring during late spring and summer, in association with increasing water temperature and food supply. Female bottlenose dolphins first reproduced at a minimum age of 8 years. Mean inter-birth interval was 3 years (mode = 2), and fecundity was 0.11. A clear change in the δ13C and δ15N profiles in teeth from stranded carcasses near age 2 indicated the most probable weaning age. First and second year annual calf survival estimates were 0.84 (95 % CI 0.72–0.90) and 0.86 (95 % CI 0.74–0.94), respectively. No evidence was found to support that timing of birth plays a role in calf survival, suggesting that variability in water temperature and food resources within the year is unlikely to impact upon survival of calves. Older females reproduced at lower rates, suggesting an age-related decrease in reproductive fitness. At an individual level, marked variation in reproductive success was observed. Our findings highlight the importance of long-term studies for long-lived mammals to yield individual- and population-level parameters for demographic and viability analyses that are useful for conservation and management.


Bottlenose Dolphin Crude Birth Rate Birth Season Female Reproductive Success Patos Lagoon Estuary 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank several people who have helped during our field surveys, including Camila Pinto, Mariana Rosa Fetter, Rafael V. Camargo, Jonatas Henrique Prado, Dimas Gianuca, Paula Laporta, and Paulo Henrique Mattos. We wish to thanks Lauro Barcellos (Director of the Museu Oceanográfico-FURG) for providing long-term logistical support to this project. Special thanks go to Juliana C. Di Tullio, by helping during several surveys and providing support with the GAM analysis. This study was made possible by the financial support of Yaqu Pacha Foundation (Germany), Fundação O Boticário de Proteção a Natureza (Brazil), Cetacean Society International (United States of America), The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (England), the Brazilian Long Term Ecological Program (PELD—National Council for Research and Technological Development/CNPq—Brazil), Refinaria de Petróleo Rio-Grandense (Brazil), and Porto do Rio Grande (Brazil). NGO Kaosa provided logistical support. Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) provided a doctoral scholarship to P. F. Fruet (Programa de Pós-Graduação em Oceanografia Biológica, Instituto de Oceanografia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande). CNPq also provided a fellowship to E. R. Secchi (PQ 307843/2011-4) and an international scholarship to P. F. Fruet (SWE 201567/2011-3). Flinders University of South Australia provided a fee waiver as part of P. F. Fruet’s PhD cotutelle program between this university and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (FURG). This is a contribution of the Research Group “Ecologia e Conservação da Megafauna Marinha—EcoMega/CNPq”.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pedro F. Fruet
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  • Rodrigo Cezar Genoves
    • 2
    • 3
  • Luciana M. Möller
    • 4
    • 5
  • Silvina Botta
    • 3
  • Eduardo R. Secchi
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Programa de Pós-Graduação em Oceanografia BiológicaUniveridade Federal do Rio Grande - FURGRio GrandeBrazil
  2. 2.Museu Oceanográfico “Prof. Eliézer C. Rios”FURGRio GrandeBrazil
  3. 3.Laboratório de Ecologia e Conservação da Megafauna Marinha (EcoMega), Instituto de OceanografiaFURGRio GrandeBrazil
  4. 4.Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab, School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  5. 5.Molecular Ecology Laboratory, School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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