Modelling dolphin distribution within an Important Marine Mammal Area in Greece to support spatial management planning

Last modified: 
December 13, 2019 - 12:47pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2019
Date published: 07/2019
Authors: Silvia Bonizzoni, Nathan Furey, Nina Santostasi, Lavinia Eddy, Vasilis Valavanis, Giovanni Bearzi
Journal title: Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
ISSN: 1052-7613
  1. Understanding marine mammal distributions is essential for conservation, as it can help identify critical habitat where management action can be taken. The semi‐enclosed Gulf of Corinth, Greece, has been identified as an Important Marine Mammal Area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, based on the regular occurrence of odontocete populations. A 7‐year (2011–17) dataset of boat‐based surveys was used to model and predict the distribution of striped dolphins, Stenella coeruleoalba, common dolphins, Delphinus delphis, and common bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, in the entire Gulf (2400 km2).
  2. Multiple geographic, bathymetric, oceanographic, and anthropogenic variables were incorporated in a combined generalized additive model and generalized estimation equation (GAM‐GEE) framework to describe dolphin occurrence and produce distribution maps.
  3. Modelling indicated that striped and common dolphins prefer deep waters (>300 m) in the central and southern part of the Gulf, whereas bottlenose dolphins prefer shallow waters (<300 m) and areas close to fish farms along the northern–central shore.
  4. Model‐based maps of the predicted distribution identified a preferred habitat encompassing most of the Gulf, also revealing: (i) hot spots of dolphin distribution covering about 40% of the Gulf's surface; (ii) an almost complete overlap of striped and common dolphin distribution, consistent with the hypothesis that common dolphins modified their habitat preferences to live in mixed species groups with striped dolphins; (iii) a clear partitioning of striped/common and bottlenose dolphin habitat; and (iv) the important role played by fish farms for bottlenose dolphins, consistent with studies conducted elsewhere in Greece.
  5. Evidence provided by this study calls for area‐specific and species‐specific management measures to mitigate anthropogenic impacts.
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