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Morphological differences between coastal bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) populations identified using non-invasive stereo-laser photogrammetry

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  • Martin van Aswegen, Murdoch University, University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • ,
  • Fredrik Christiansen
  • John Symons, Murdoch University
  • ,
  • Janet Mann, Georgetown University
  • ,
  • Krista Nicholson, Murdoch University
  • ,
  • Kate Sprogis, Environmental and Conservation Sciences, Murdoch University, Aquatic Megafauna Research Unit
  • ,
  • Lars Bejder, Murdoch University, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Obtaining morphometric data on free-ranging marine megafauna is difficult, as traditional methods rely on post-mortem or live-capture techniques. We linked stereo-laser photogrammetry with long-term demographic data to compare length-at-age (LaA) growth curves of two well-studied populations of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in south-western (SW) and Shark Bay (SB), mid-western Australia. First, we determined the relationship between total length (TL) and blowhole-to-dorsal fin (BH-DF) length from post-mortem subjects (R2 = 0.99, n = 12). We then predicted TL from laser-derived BH-DF measurements of 129 and 74 known-age individuals in SW and SB, respectively. Richards growth models best described our LaA data. While birth length (103–110 cm) was similar between study regions, TL estimates at 1, 3, 12, and 25 years differed significantly (p < 0.001). Asymptotic length of adult males (SW = 246 cm, SB = 201 cm) and females (SW = 244 cm, SB = 200 cm) also differed significantly. Morphotypic variations likely reflect regional adaptations to local water temperatures, with the temperate SW having cooler waters than sub-tropical SB. We demonstrate the effectiveness of a non-invasive technique to understand ecological, demographic and life-history characteristics of long-lived marine megafauna, which are critical parameters for informing conservation and management actions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12235
JournalScientific Reports
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

    Research areas

  • Animals, Body Size, Bottle-Nosed Dolphin/anatomy & histology, Female, Male, Photogrammetry/methods, Western Australia

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