ESR 32:479-490 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00826

Effects of swim-with-dolphin tourism on the behaviour of a threatened species, the Burrunan dolphin Tursiops australis 

Nicole E. Filby1,*, Fredrik Christiansen2, Carol Scarpaci3, Karen A. Stockin

1Coastal-Marine Research Group, Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 102 904, North Shore MSC, New Zealand
2Cetacean Research Unit, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
3Ecology and Environmental Research Group, School of Ecology and Sustainability, Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science, Victoria University, PO Box 14428 (Werribee Campus), Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Burrunan dolphins Tursiops australis are frequently targeted by tourism operations in Port Phillip Bay, Australia. This study aimed to provide first insights into whether swim-with-dolphin (SWD) vessels in Port Phillip Bay affect the behaviour of Burrunan dolphins via the use of Markov chain models. The presence of SWD vessels affected dolphins’ travelling, foraging, milling and socialising behaviours. The time dolphins spent foraging in the presence of SWD vessels was significantly reduced, with average foraging bout length decreasing by 13.6%, foraging recovery time increasing by 47.6%, and the probability of transitioning from foraging to milling increasing 4-fold. Conversely, dolphins spent significantly more time milling and socialising in the presence of SWD vessels. The reduction in time spent foraging when SWD vessels are present could lead to a decrease in dolphins’ rate of energy acquisition, whilst the increase in milling could increase their energy expenditure. Collectively, this may lead to reduced biological fitness with population level consequences. However, although the short-term behavioural budget of the dolphin population was significantly affected, SWD vessels did not significantly affect the cumulative (i.e. yearly) behavioural budget of Burrunan dolphins. Thus, the assumption that boat-based cetacean tourism has major negative effects on targeted populations may be flawed in some cases.


KEY WORDS: Tourism impact · Markov chains · Behavioural budget · Vessel exposure · Foraging · Disturbance · Management · Australia


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Cite this article as: Filby NE, Christiansen F, Scarpaci C, Stockin KA (2017) Effects of swim-with-dolphin tourism on the behaviour of a threatened species, the Burrunan dolphin Tursiops australis . Endang Species Res 32:479-490. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00826

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