Dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) occurrence and movement patterns near Kaikoura, New Zealand



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In Kaikoura, New Zealand dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) are economically and ecologically important. However, more information on key habitat requirements is needed to develop an effective management plan for them. I use systematic shore-based observations and tour operator gathered boat-based observations and review night-time foraging observations to explore dusky dolphin occurrence and movement patterns. I discuss possible influence of prey on these patterns. From January to December 2006, I conducted crepuscular observations from three clifftop stations. With these geospatial data I examined occurrence, mean speed, and linearity over seasonal, diel, and tidal temporal scales. From October 1995 to November 2006 tour guides recorded GPS locations for over 5,000 dusky dolphin groups, allowing me to examine seasonal occurrence patterns. For both datasets I quantified occurrence patterns relative to depth, distance from the Kaikoura Canyon, and distance from shore. I reviewed the three studies conducted on dusky night foraging behavior in Kaikoura. I explore the effects of seasonal and lunar-scale changes in night-time light levels on dusky dolphin foraging behavior. Duskies exhibited seasonal and diel, but not tidal occurrence and movement patterns. Dolphins were found farther offshore, in deeper water, and travelling faster in winter and approaching sunset. The areas of highest sightings density were associated with the Kaikoura Canyon, and shifted almost entirely into the canyon in winter and approaching sunset. Dolphins made sharper turns during summer. Dolphins were, on average, closer to the Kaikoura Canyon than to shore. Seasonal occurrence patterns described by tour operator data agreed with those described by geospatial data collected by shorebased observers. Duskies exhibited flexible foraging behavior and appeared to use both seasonal and lunar phase specific tactics. Night-time light levels appeared to influence dusky foraging behavior, possibly through changes in prey behavior. Prey availability and behavior patterns appeared to influence dusky occurrence and movement patterns. The dolphins' affinity for the Kaikoura Canyon may reflect a strategy to maximize access to prey.