DURHAM, NC Over-eager eco-tourists intent on seeing spinner dolphins up close may inadvertently be disturbing the charismatic animals' daytime rest periods and driving them out of safe habitats in bays along Hawaii's coast.
Scientists at Duke and Stony Brook universities have developed a promising new tool that may help to limit repeated human disturbances and help reduce their negative impacts on the dolphins.
"Using the maps produced through this study we can identify the bays where the effects of human activities on spinner dolphins should be monitored most closely, and where immediate conservation actions are required," said David W. Johnston, research scientist at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.
The researchers' tool shows that only a small number of bays 21 out of 99 in a study area along the western coastlines of the main Hawaiian islands were suitable habitats for resting dolphins. Knowing this, "conservation efforts can be focused on specific areas of importance," Johnston said,
"We may be able to minimize detrimental effects on dolphins by putting restrictions or preventative measures into place in a relatively small number of bays, rather than limiting access to dolphins along the entire coast," said the study's lead author, Lesley H. Thorne, a lecturer in marine science at Stony Brook University, who received her PhD from Duke in 2010. "That benefits tourists and tourism operators as well as the dolphins."
In the study, the researchers used the geographic coordinates and key environmental factors such as water depth and calmness, the size and proportions of the bays and distances from deep-water foraging grounds for hundreds of spinner dolphin sightings made in the study area between 2000 and 2010. The results appear August 27 in the online, open-access peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE. It's available at http://bit.ly/PMtBGp
|Contact: Tim Lucas|