, Volume 160, Issue 12, pp 3113-3124
Date: 29 Aug 2013

Pregnancy patterns of pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) in the eastern tropical Pacific determined from hormonal analysis of blubber biopsies and correlations with the purse-seine tuna fishery

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Abstract

The northeastern offshore population of the pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata) in the eastern tropical Pacific remains listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and recent estimates of abundance show that recovery has been slow. One hypothesis for the slow recovery is that continued chase and encirclement by the tuna fishery negatively affects reproduction. Insufficient life-history sampling in this region over the last two decades makes traditional estimates of reproductive rates impossible. Here, we examine the current reproductive patterns of these dolphins by measuring blubber progesterone (BP) concentrations in biopsy samples to assess pregnancy state. BP was quantified in 212 biopsies from female offshore spotted dolphins sampled between 1998 and 2003 in the northeastern tropical Pacific, and we found that 11.5 % of the biopsied females (mature and immature) were pregnant. The relationship between pregnancy and fishery exposure was analyzed, and we found that pregnant females were exposed to significantly less fishery activity than non-pregnant ones (p = 0.022), suggesting that the fishery may have an inhibitive effect on pregnancy. Spatial analysis indicated that pregnancy was more aggregated than random (p < 0.05) at a scale up to 180-nmi, with the highest proportion pregnant in the mouth of the Gulf of California, an area with relatively low reported fishery activity.

Communicated by U. Siebert.