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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13347

Identifying spinner dolphin Stenella longirostris longirostris movement and behavioral patterns to inform conservation strategies in Maui Nui, Hawaiʻi

Stephanie H. Stack*, Grace L. Olson, Valentin Neamtu, Abigail F. Machernis, Robin W. Baird, Jens J. Currie

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Spinner dolphins Stenella longirostris longirostris in Hawaiʻi exhibit a predictable diurnal behavioral pattern which makes them vulnerable to human disturbance, feeding at night in offshore waters and resting during daytime in bays. There is concern that human activity, such as swimming with and viewing wild dolphins from vessels, is altering their natural behavioral patterns and allowing inadequate periods to rest. In light of this, state and federal management agencies are proposing enhanced protection measures. Research on spinner dolphins has largely focused off Hawaiʻi Island and there are insufficient data from Maui Nui (Maui, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe and Molokaʻi) to inform appropriate management measures for the genetically distinct stock that resides around these islands. Using location data from 316 encounters between 1996 and 2019, we identified 2 hot spots for spinner dolphins within the region; located along west Maui and south Lānaʻi. The predominant behavior observed was traveling and there was little resting behavior documented throughout the study period, with no resting behavior observed along the coastline of Maui. Our findings reveal that spinner dolphins use a wide variety of available habitat in Maui Nui and were observed resting both near the shore of Lānaʻi and in the channels between islands. Based upon these findings, the proposed lone area for closure in south Maui is inadequate for providing protection to spinner dolphins during resting hours and we propose that the identified hot spots are considered as additional sites for closures, in addition to an approach limit for vessels transiting Maui Nui.