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The Hidden Cost of Tourism: Detecting Long-term Effects of Tourism Using Behavioral Information

David Lusseau, University of Aberdeen

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Abstract

Increasingly, whales and dolphins are the focus of tourism activities in many coastal locations. Although these activities can affect individuals and populations of cetaceans, the biological significance and hence the cost of these impacts are as yet largely unknown. This study assessed the effects of boat interactions on the behavioral budget of two populations of bottlenose dolphins (Tersiops truncatus) living in similar fjords but exposed to different levels of tourism activities. This comparison makes it possible to assess the costs of short-term avoidance strategies and the threshold at which those strategies are no longer effective. The effects of boat interactions were the same in both fjords. The resting state was the most sensitive to interactions; socializing was less sensitive. Short-term displacement was a typical response to boat exposure: dolphins were more likely to travel after an interaction with a vessel. Although the behavioral budgets of these populations were significantly altered during interactions with boats, their overall behavioral budgets were unchanged. Dolphins in Milford Sound actively avoided boat interactions, possibly to maintain their overall behavioral budget unchanged. This active avoidance led to avoidance of the area. Characteristics of dolphin-boat interactions in Milford Sound suggest that the advantages gained by short-term avoidance are lost if, on average, fewer than 68 min elapse between successive interactions with boats. If dolphin-boat interactions were more frequent than this, the dolphins switched to a longer-term response: area avoidance.

Key words

Tursiops truncatus, Markov chain modeling, avoidance, behavioral budget, boat-dolphin interactions, boats, bottlenose dolphin, impact assessment, long-term effects, tourism, whale-watching
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087