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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 440:255-266 (2011)  -  DOI:

Marine open cage aquaculture in the eastern Mediterranean Sea: a new trophic resource for bottlenose dolphins

Chiara Piroddi1,2,*, Giovanni Bearzi2, Villy Christensen1

1Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T1Z4, Canada
2Tethys Research Institute, Viale G.B. Gadio 2, 20121 Milano, Italy

ABSTRACT: Over the last 2 decades marine open cage aquaculture in the Mediterranean Sea has grown rapidly, leading to increased productivity in the water column near fish farms. Here we investigated the effect of such increase in productivity on the common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus. We developed an ecosystem model for the inner Ionian Sea Archipelago, western Greece, to: (1) evaluate the trophic interactions between bottlenose dolphins and their surrounding ecosystem, including cage-associated organisms; (2) investigate simultaneously 3 hypotheses that could explain bottlenose dolphin dynamics: (a) increasing fishing effort and changes in ocean productivity, (b) competition with other species, and (c) increase in number of fish farms; and (3) explore spatial trends in bottlenose dolphins distribution using the increased number of fish farms as an explanatory variable. Comparisons of model predictions with historical time-series data indicate that only the increase in number of cages and thereby in productivity near fish farms contributed to the trends observed in dolphin numbers. Spatial analysis also confirmed an increase in occurrence of these dolphins in the proximity of the farms. These outcomes suggest that high productivity in waters surrounding fish cages—within a coastal area that is markedly oligotrophic—may attract bottlenose dolphins. The present study shows that open cage aquaculture has benefited bottlenose dolphins by easing their way of catching prey. Further studies should be conducted in other areas of the Mediterranean Sea to investigate whether the higher occurrence of bottlenose dolphins around fish cages is a common pattern and if it is driven by the trophic status of the ecosystem or by the type of fishes that surround the cages.

KEY WORDS: Bottlenose dolphin · Fish farms · Ionian Sea · Ecosystem modelling approach

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Cite this article as: Piroddi C, Bearzi G, Christensen V (2011) Marine open cage aquaculture in the eastern Mediterranean Sea: a new trophic resource for bottlenose dolphins. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 440:255-266.

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