Boats and social isolation the bane of bottlenose dolphins in Panama

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Boats and social isolation the bane of bottlenose dolphins in Panama

December 25, 2017 - 21:43
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Researchers are proposing that the small community of bottlenose dolphins in Panama's Bocas Del Toro Archipelago be considered endangered, due to a number of factors affecting the population.

Boats and dolphins are not always a good match.

Although the common bottlenose dolphin is not endangered, scientists have raised concerns with regards to a specific population of them inhabiting the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago in Panama.

Currently, there are about 80 of them in the archipelago, founded by a small dolphin family about several thousand years ago. The small size of the population aside, this group of dolphins does not interbreed with other Caribbean bottlenose dolphins, nor has any meaningful exchange between them and the nearest permanent dolphin population been observed.

“Our results indicate that the population of dolphins in Bocas Del Toro is genetically isolated from other populations in the Caribbean, and given the high impact of boat traffic on the animals, we suggest that its conservation status be changed, at least at a local level," said Dalia C. Barragán-Barrera, from Colombia's Universidad de los Andes. She is the lead author of a study on the subject, the findings of which was published in the 13th December issue of the PLOS ONE journal.

In the course of the research, skin samples from 25 dolphins in the archipelago were analysed, and were found to share the same haplotype, a set of genes inherited from the same mother. Other Caribbean dolphins do not possess this haplotype, suggesting that the dolphins in the archipelago have adapted to the turbid ecosystem there, surrounded by mangroves, sheltered from waves and free of large predators.

Another cause for concern is the increasing boat traffic in the archipelago, which had killed at least seven dolphins in 2012. The study had documented incidents of dolphins fatalities and injuries caused by boat collisions and entanglements in fishing nets. The effects of boat noise have also been taken into account. The researchers' work with the local tourism industry has yield some progress.

According to them, “Because of the pressure of the dolphin-watching industry on this population and the impending threats to the dolphins, the International Whaling Commission made four recommendations to the government of Panama to develop strategies to protect this population. Despite these recommendations, dolphin-watching industry continues to grow and impact the dolphins of Bocas Del Toro."

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