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Pregnancy Cravings: Visitation at a Food-Provisioning Site is Driven by the Reproductive Status of Bottlenose Dolphins

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Marine wildlife tourism attractions often use food rewards to ensure close-up encounters with freeranging animals. In Bunbury, Western Australia, the Dolphin Discovery Centre (DDC) conducts a foodprovision program where bottlenose dolphins (N = 22; between 2000 and 2018) are offered food rewards to encourage their visitation at a beach in front of the DDC. We used historical records on individual beach visits by adult female dolphins collected by the DDC from 2000 to 2018 to develop generalized mixed effects models (GLMM) to test whether the frequency of beach visitation was influenced by their reproductive status (pregnant, lactating, nonreproductive) or climatic events (El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation phases) that could affect prey availability. We also quantified the behavioral budget of dolphins during food-provisioning sessions and documented intra- and interspecific aggressive behaviors using individual focal follows collected in 2017–2018. Provisioned females spend most of the time resting within the interaction area (66.3%) and aggressive interactions arise as a consequence of dominance behavior over food access. Visitation rates were most influenced by reproductive status with pregnant and lactating females visiting the provisioning area more frequently (z = 2.085, p = 0.037 and z = 2.437, p = 0.014, respectively). Females that frequently visit the provisioning area expose their dependent calves to regular human interactions at an early age when they are more susceptible to behavioral conditioning. Such experiences could cause the loss of awareness towards humans and promote maladaptive behaviors such as begging that increase risk of entanglement in fishing gear, boat strikes, and propeller injuries.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 14, 2020

This article was made available online on July 13, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "PREGNANCY CRAVINGS: VISITATION AT A FOOD-PROVISIONING SITE IS DRIVEN BY THE REPRODUCTIVE STATUS OF BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS".

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  • Tourism in Marine Environments is an interdisciplinary journal dealing with a variety of management issues in marine settings. It is a scientific journal that draws upon the expertise of academics and practitioners from various disciplines related to the marine environment, including tourism, marine science, geography, social sciences, psychology, environmental studies, economics, marketing, and many more.
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