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Spatiotemporal models highlight influence of oceanographic conditions on common dolphin bycatch risk in the Bay of Biscay

Lola Gilbert*, Etienne Rouby, Emilie Tew-Kaï, Jérôme Spitz, Hélène Peltier, Victor Quilfen, Matthieu Authier

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The population of short-beaked common dolphins Delphinus delphis of the Bay of Biscay (Northeast Atlantic) has been subjected to potentially dangerous levels of bycatch since the 1990s: as the phenomenon intensifies, it represents a potent threat to the population. Here, we investigated the relationship between bycatch mortality and oceanographic processes. We assumed that oceanographic processes spatio-temporally structure the availability and aggregation of prey, creating areas prone to attract both common dolphins and fish targeted by fisheries. We used two datasets from 2012 to 2019: oceanographic data resulting from a circulation model and mortality data inferred from strandings. The latter allows location of mortality areas and quantification of the intensity of mortality events at sea. We fitted a series of spatiotemporal hierarchical Bayesian models using Integrated Nested Laplace Approximations (INLA). Results provided first insights on how bycatch of common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay might be related to key seasonal and dynamic oceanographic features. We showed that from a statistical predictive point of view, the monthly trend of 2019 bycatch mortality could be predicted with few oceanographic covariates. This study highlights how gaining knowledge about environmental influences on interactions between short-beaked common dolphins and fisheries could have great conservation and management value. Identified relationships with oceanographic covariates were complex, as expected given the dynamic aspects of oceanographic processes, dolphins and fisheries distributions. Further research focusing on smaller time scales is needed to elucidate proximal drivers of common dolphin bycatch in the Bay of Biscay.