Supervisor: Andrew Hendry
The bottlenose dolphins of Dolphin Bay in the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro (BDT) live in a small and genetically isolated population (Barragán-Barrera et al. 2012, 2015) that sustains the largest dolphin tourism industry in Panama. In this location, dolphins are exposed to high levels of dolphin watching on regularly basis and they have adopted a number of short-term behavioral and acoustic strategies in an apparent attempt to overcome the invasiveness of these interactions. Until now, studies have suggested that dolphin watching in general is considered as a stressor (New et al., 2015; Parsons, 2012) but no study has directly tested the link between the dolphin watching and physiology in a wild population. If dolphin-watching activity is causing prolonged stress, then I will expect stress levels will have significant consequences for survival, reproduction, and the overall health of the population (Kirby et al., 2009; Thomson and Geraci, 1985). During my doctoral studies, I will quantify the stress hormone levels of dolphins in relation to dolphin-watching activities. To do so, I will be collecting biopsies from wild animals in three neighboring areas that vary in boat activity: Changuinola, Chiriquí Lagoon, and Bocas del Toro. The last of these sites has the highest dolphin watching levels, and the other two locations have very limited dolphin watching levels. Specifically, I will ask the following questions: Are hormone levels significantly higher in the dolphin populations where dolphin-watching activities are high? and, if so, do hormone levels vary with seasonal variation in tourism? Finally, based on hormone levels, can we predict the health status of this population?
Guzman, Hector M., Richard Condit, Betzi Pérez-Ortega, Juan J. Capella, Peter T. Stevick
2015 Marine Mammal Science