Factors driving patterns and trends in strandings of small cetaceans

Abstract

The incidence of cetacean strandings is expected to depend on a combination of factors, including the distribution and abundance of the cetaceans, their prey, and causes of mortality (e.g. natural, fishery bycatch), as well as currents and winds which affect whether carcasses reach the shore. We investigated spatiotemporal patterns and trends in the numbers of strandings of three species of small cetacean in Galicia (NW Spain) and their relationships with meteorological, oceanographic, prey abundance and fishing-related variables, aiming to disentangle the relationship that may exist between these factors, cetacean abundance and mortality off the coast. Strandings of 1166 common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), 118 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and 90 harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) during 2000–2013 were analysed. Generalised additive and generalised additive-mixed model results showed that the variables which best explained the pattern of strandings of the three cetacean species were those related with local ocean meteorology (strength and direction of the North–South component of the winds and the number of days with South-West winds) and the winter North Atlantic Oscillation Index. There were no significant relationships with indices of fishing effort or landings. Only bottlenose dolphin showed possible fluctuations in local abundance over the study period. There was no evidence of long-term trends in number of strandings in any of the species and their abundances were, therefore, considered to have been relatively stable during the study period.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank all the volunteers and members of CEMMA who attended the strandings, as well as the researchers who contributed, through different studies and projects, to the improvement of the cetacean database. The standing network was partially funded by the “Dirección Xeral de Conservación da Natureza da Xunta de Galicia” in Spain and by the “Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia” in Portugal. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under Grant Agreement No 613571—MareFrame. The main author (C.S.) received a pre-doctoral grant from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (BOE-A-2011-2541). We thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Camilo Saavedra.

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Saavedra, C., Pierce, G.J., Gago, J. et al. Factors driving patterns and trends in strandings of small cetaceans. Mar Biol 164, 165 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-017-3200-3

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