HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Edward O. Keith

Second Advisor

Steven Swartz

Third Advisor

Keith Ronald


Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) exhibit variable distribution patterns, depending upon their geographic location. Habitat utilization patterns in Biscayne Bay, Florida, were examined using the Biscayne Bay Bottlenose Dolphin Photo-ID database obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) Miami Laboratory. Habitat coverages in Biscayne Bay were obtained from the Atlas of Marine Resources Version 1.3B CD and the Biscayne Bay National Park CD. Dolphin sightings were overlaid on the habitat coverages using GIS Arcview software.

The effects of habitat, season, behavior, zone (sectioned area of Biscayne Bay), and depth on patterns of bottlenose dolphin distribution were examined by analysis of variance to determine the significance of the factors. The total number of dolphins observed during the sightings analyzed was 1,538. The number of dolphins per sighting varied from 1 to 28 dolphins, with a mean of 5.14. The average number of dolphins per survey effort was 10.32. Several significant changes in habitat have occurred between 1991-1992 to 1997. The changes in habitat had some influence on the dolphins’ behavior distribution. The highest proportion of all behavior types was found in moderately dense seagrass beds and dredge bottom areas. Habitat quality (habitat types) of Biscayne Bay influenced dolphin sightings, while habitat quantity (habitat area) influenced dolphin numbers. Analysis of variance statistics supported the strong significant effect of habitat on the variation of sightings and dolphin numbers (P < 0.001).

No significant difference in sightings was found between seasons or zones throughout the study period. The fall season had the lowest number of dolphins and sightings. The low number of surveys during the fall season does not account for all the influence on the dolphin numbers. Strong significant differences were observed between behaviors (P < 0.001). The majority of initial behaviors included traveling, feeding, and socializing. Changes in behaviors were apparent as observations continued. It was determined that the proximity of the research vessel and the duration of observation influenced dolphin behavior. Tail slap and chuffing behavior and boat interaction doubled and quadrupled, respectively during sightings. A strong variation in the number of sightings and number of dolphins occurred between different depths (P < 0.001). The majority of dolphins were observed in depths of 2.1 - 3 meters. This coincides with the fact that the majority of Biscayne Bay depths are within that range. A time series analysis was performed to determine if there was a cycle present in the pattern of dolphin distribution, and no significant cycle was found. Future analysis of dolphin composition (resident, migratory, nomadic) may yield cyclic patterns.



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