The impact of shellfish farming on common bottlenose dolphins’ use of habitat
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Shellfish farming is an expanding segment of marine aquaculture, but the impact of this industry on coastal cetacean species is only beginning to be considered. The interaction between mussel farming and coastal cetaceans in one of the world’s leading producers of this bivalve (Galicia, NW Spain) was studied. Specifically, the habitat use of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) was evaluated in relation to environmental, geographical, and anthropogenic variables. Over a period of 22 months spent in the field, 154 daily boat surveys and 353 common bottlenose dolphin encounters were done. Results of this study confirm that areas of mussel production are frequently utilized by common bottlenose dolphins. Of the investigated factors, shellfish farms appeared to have a clear effect, with increased bottlenose dolphin occurrence at mussel farm locations and in waters close to the aquaculture zones. These observations contrast with previous studies where the occurrence and distribution of coastal cetacean species decreased in association with shellfish aquaculture representing a source of habitat loss and causing potentially negative effects. These differences suggest that the interactions between shellfish aquaculture and cetaceans are affected by the culture method and cetacean species involved. The positive relationships between dolphins’ occurrence and mussel aquaculture zones are presumably the result of large aggregations of fish species around mussel rafts, which provide high densities of high-quality prey for dolphins. This study provides new insights into the understanding of how shellfish aquaculture influences coastal dolphins and hence support the design of policies aimed at implementing ecosystem management principles.
KeywordsAquaculture Common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus Shellfish farm Mussel rafts GAMs
Field observations carried out during this work are part of a long-term study supported by funding from the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (BDRI). We would like to thank the BDRI students and volunteers who assisted with fieldwork. Many thanks are also extended to Niki Karagouni and Victoria Hope who generously gave their time to help with field and laboratory work.
This study was funded by the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute BDRI.
Conflict of interest
Both authors of this study declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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