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The natural history and conservation of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in South African waters
Plön, S.; Cockcroft, V.G.; Froneman, W.P. (2015). The natural history and conservation of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in South African waters. Adv. Mar. Biol. 72: 143-162. hdl.handle.net/10.1016/bs.amb.2015.08.005
In: Advances in Marine Biology. Academic Press: London, New York. ISSN 0065-2881, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keywords
Author keywords
    Indian Ocean humpback dolphin; Natural history; Habitat utilisation; Threats

Authors  Top 
  • Plön, S.
  • Cockcroft, V.G.
  • Froneman, W.P.

Abstract
    Although most knowledge on the biology of Sousa plumbea has primarily come from South African waters, a number of research gaps remain on the natural history and status of the species in the region. Research on two populations in South African waters for which some historical data exist may aid in highlighting long-term changes in the biology and natural history of this little known coastal delphinid. Recent studies on the age, growth and reproduction of animals incidentally caught in shark nets in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, yielded a lower maximum age estimate of 24 (previously 46) growth-layer-groups (GLGs), sexual maturity of 7.5 and 8 GLGs in males and females (previously 12–13 and 10 GLGs, respectively), an ovulation rate of 0.2 and a 5-year calving interval (previously 0.3 and 3-year calving interval) than previously reported. These differences may be due to a difference in the interpretation of GLGs between observers or a predominance of young males being caught in the shark nets. Stomach content analysis revealed a change in the relative proportions of the main prey items over the past 25 years, but no difference in species richness or diversity was found between the sexes. No change in trophic level was recorded between 1972 and 2009. Field studies in Algoa Bay, Eastern Cape, conducted 16 years apart indicated a decline in the mean group size (from 7 to 3 animals), a decline in the maximum group size (from 24 to 13 animals), an increase in solitary individuals (15.4–36%), and a change in behaviour from predominantly foraging (64–18%) to mainly travelling (24–49%). The observed changes are suggestive of a change in food availability, resulting in a range shift or a potential decline in numbers. These studies indicate the importance of long-term studies to monitor population changes and their possible causes. A number of threats, such as shark nets, pollution (noise and chemical), and coastal development and disturbance, to the humpback dolphin populations in South Africa have been identified. Urgent action is required to ensure continued existence of the species in South African waters.

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