Odontocete Adaptations to Human Impact and Vice Versa

  • Giovanni Bearzi
  • Sarah Piwetz
  • Randall R. Reeves
Part of the Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals book series (EBEMM)


Some mammalian species that have not succumbed to pervasive human impacts and encroachments have managed to adapt to certain types of human activities. Several odontocetes have modified their behavior to persist, and in some cases even prosper, in human-altered riverine, coastal, and oceanic habitat. Examples include cooperation with fishers to catch fish, depredation on fishing gear, scavenging, and other kinds of opportunistic foraging (e.g., behind trawlers, around fish farms, or near built structures such as dams and offshore platforms). Some populations have adapted to life in human-made channels and waterways. We review information on the variety of odontocete adaptations to human encroachment, highlight some of the risks and benefits, and try to single out factors that may trigger or contribute to adaptation. Adaptation often brings wildlife into close contact with humans, which leads to conflict. We discuss the challenges of coexistence and contend that we humans, too, need to adjust our behavior and change how we perceive and value wildlife for coexistence to be possible. In addition to good management and conservation action, tolerance on our part will be key for allowing wildlife—odontocetes included—to persist. We advocate cultural and even spiritual shifts that can foster tolerance, nurture the social change that leads to appreciation for wildlife, and create more opportunities to preserve nature.


Toothed whales Dolphins Porpoises Behavior Human impact Fisheries Depredation Scavenging Adaptation Coexistence 



We are grateful to Peter J. Corkeron for contributing valuable thoughts and information and to Silvia Bonizzoni for insightful comments. Grant Abel provided a report with photos of his observations of South Asian river dolphins in the Sapta Koshi River, Nepal, and Jack Lawson provided a summary of interactions between odontocetes and fisheries on the Grand Banks, Newfoundland, Canada. Grant Abel, Claryana C. Araújo, Silvia Bonizzoni, Samuel Hung, Thomas A. Jefferson, Jack Lawson, Bertrand Loyer, and Jan Straley generously contributed photos displaying cases of odontocete adaptation to human impact.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giovanni Bearzi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sarah Piwetz
    • 1
    • 3
  • Randall R. Reeves
    • 4
  1. 1.Dolphin Biology and ConservationCordenons PNItaly
  2. 2.OceanCareWädenswilSwitzerland
  3. 3.Texas Marine Mammal Stranding NetworkGalvestonUSA
  4. 4.Okapi Wildlife AssociatesHudsonCanada

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