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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01117

Mark-recapture estimates suggest declines in abundance of common bottlenose dolphin stocks in the main Hawaiian Islands

Amy M. Van Cise*, Robin W. Baird, Annette E. Harnish, Jens J. Currie, Stephanie H. Stack, Tori Cullins, Antoinette M. Gorgone

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Species conservation relies on understanding population demographics, yet this information is lacking for many species and populations. Four stocks of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus inhabiting the waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands are exposed to anthropogenic disturbances including fisheries interactions, tourism, naval activities, ocean noise, and contaminants. Although these stocks are managed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a demographic assessment has not been undertaken since 2006, and there is currently no information on population trends. We combine regular survey effort with citizen science contributions to estimate apparent survival and annual abundance within each stock using photographs collected between 2000 and 2018. Over this time period we collected 2818 high-quality identifications of 765 distinctive individuals across all 4 stocks. Analyses of inter-annual movements indicated individuals exhibit restricted habitat use within stocks, which contributed to non-random sampling. Annual abundance estimates ranged from the 10s to the low 100s. Apparent survival ranged from 0.84 to 0.9, with lower-than-expected estimates in all stocks. Annual abundance estimates declined in 3 of the 4 stocks; however, this decline was not significant for the Kauaʻi/Niʻihau and Oʻahu stocks, and may be an artifact of sampling design in all stocks. Given the small population size for these stocks, it is important to closely monitor trends in abundance as a first step in mitigating negative effects of anthropogenic activities. Future efforts should focus on consistent geographic coverage in all stocks to decrease model uncertainty and improve trend assessment.