Feeding Flipper: a case study of a humandolphin interaction
Hugh Finn, Rebecca Donaldson and Michael Calver
Pacific Conservation Biology
14(3) 215 - 225
AbstractWe document a human-dolphin interaction involving the illegal feeding of wild Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Cockburn Sound, Western Australia from 1993-2003. In 1993 only one dolphin was considered conditioned to human interaction through food reinforcement. By 2001, 16% (n = 12) of the resident community of 74 adult dolphins were conditioned, and at least 14 dolphins were conditioned by 2003. Of the 13 conditioned dolphins of known sex, 11 (85%) were males. We observed conditioned dolphins initiating interactions by approaching recreational fishing boats and by residing for several hours at boat ramps and shore-based fishing sites. We only observed recreational fishers feeding dolphins, although anecdotal reports indicated additional feeding sources. We used belt transects to determine the densities of recreational boats and encounter rates for conditioned dolphins across habitats within Cockburn Sound. Encounter rates and boat densities were positively correlated, suggesting an association between recreational boat density and the ranging patterns of conditioned dolphins. This study demonstrates how illegal feeding interactions can intensify over time to affect a potentially biologically significant proportion of a local dolphin population. This emphasizes the need for early and pro-active intervention and demonstrates the value of longitudinal, individual-specific wildlife studies.
© CSIRO 2008