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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fishery Effects on Dolphins Targeted by Tuna Purse-seiners in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean


Dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP), particularly spotted ( Stenella attenuate ) and spinner ( Stenella longirostris ) dolphins, are subject to fishery-induced stress due to chase and encirclement by tuna purse-seiners intent on capturing the large yellowfin tuna that are frequently found associated with dolphin schools in this area of the Pacific Ocean. The direct, observed mortality of dolphins in the fishing nets has decreased over the years from several hundred thousand annually during the early 1960’s when the fishing practice originated, to less than 5000 dolphins annually (thought to be a biologically insignificant level) since the early 1990s. Despite the decrease in observed mortality, the dolphin populations have not been recovering as expected. In an effort to determine whether fishery-related stress may be contributing to this lack of recovery, through unobserved effects on survival or reproduction, a variety of studies have been and continue to be conducted examining various aspects of interactions between ETP dolphins and the tuna purse-seine fishery. These studies include a review of current knowledge of stress physiology in mammals, a necropsy program to examine dolphins killed during purse-seining operations, a chase-recapture experiment, and various analyses of existing (historical) data which have led to ongoing studies of fishery effects on mother-calf pairs, ETP dolphin reproductive biology, and analyses of dolphin school composition. The effect of noise has not been addressed directly in these studies, but potentially contributes to fishery-related stress in terms of initiating the significant and prolonged evasion response typical of dolphin schools reacting to tuna purse-seiners in the ETP. Although studies completed to date have not provided a definitive answer to whether fishery-induced stress is a significant factor in the lack of dolphin stock recovery in the ETP, it is possible that at least some adults, and probably many young dolphins, are negatively affected by interactions with tuna purseseine fishing operations.

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