Short-term effects of tourism on the behaviour of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in the Azores

Cecchetti, A., Stockin, K., Gordon, J., & Azevedo, J.M.N. (2018) Short-term effects of tourism on the behaviour of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in the Azores.

Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 98(5), 1187–1196. DOI:10.1017/S0025315417000674 (IF2018 1,578; Q3 Marine and Freshwater Biology)
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  • Jan, 2018


Short-term measures of behavioural responses of cetaceans to tourism operations have been used in many studies to interpret and understand potential long-term impacts of biological importance. The short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) is the species most frequently observed in the Azores and constitutes an important component of the marine mammal tourism industry in this region. This study investigated the potential effects of tour boats on the behaviour of common dolphins off São Miguel, Azores, with particular focus on the changes in activity budget and the time required to resume activities after a tour boat interaction. Behavioural data were collected from land using a group focal-follow methodology. Markov chains were applied to analyse control and interaction sequences and to assess behavioural transition probabilities in both scenarios. In the presence of tour boats, dolphins significantly reduced the time spent foraging and increased the time engaged in other high energy activities. Dolphins also took significantly longer to resume feeding after an interaction occurred. The average bout length varied significantly between control and interaction scenarios, with foraging bouts being shorter during tour boats interactions. The results presented have management implications since feeding is a biologically critical activity. Disruption of foraging behaviour could lead to a decrease in energy intake for this population. With cetacean tourism likely to increase in the future, a precautionary approach to issuing new licences is advisable and any expansion would warrant an appropriate monitoring programme.