Consequences of feeding dolphins: an ecological and social-economic approach
Food is sometimes used to attract and mediate close encounters with wildlife. Unfortunately, this practice can have negative effects on individual animals and populations (Orams, 2002). This project aims to quantify the effects of food provisioning on the social ecology of dolphins in Bunbury, Western Australia (WA). The project will also explore human dimensions (the social and economic drivers) of food provisioning and explore what might be the best management of this practice.
- Lead researcher: PhD candidate Valeria Senigaglia
- Supervisors: Prof. Lars Bejder, Dr. Fredrik Christiansen and Dr. Michael Hughes
Food provisioning of cetaceans has been linked to short and long-term negative effects (Mann et al. 2000; Christiansen et al. 2016). This project focuses on the possible effects of a state-regulated provisioning program on the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphis population in Bunbury, WA. Bunbury is an industrialized port characterized by heavy recreational traffic and potential effects of dolphins becoming conditioned to food handouts might have long-term consequences. As dolphins’ wariness towards people decrease, the chances for boat strikes and entanglements increase and there are more opportunities for the general public to illegally food provision (Samuels and Bejder 2004; Donaldson et al. 2012).
Aims and approach
- assess short and long-term effects of food provisioning on Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins
- assess the frequency and spread of dolphin begging behaviour and its correlation with food provisioning and human interactions
- determine the socio-economic drivers of human-dolphin interactions in Bunbury, WA
- develop a qualitative framework to evaluate socio-ecological dynamics of human-wildlife conflict.
The study is conducted in collaboration with the Dolphin Discovery Center who run the provisioning program under a WA State permit. Moreover, it capitalizes on 11 years of data, collected through the South West Marine Research Program, on dolphin population abundance, habitat use, behavioural and foraging ecology, and genetic connectivity to other populations in south-western Australia. These data will be complemented with additional data from individual focal follows and will be used to determine the short- and long-term effects of food provisioning on the bottlenose dolphin population in Bunbury. Specifically, behavioural budgets, maternal care, home range, survival and reproductive success will be compared between provisioned and non-provisioned animals. The project also aims to quantify the occurrence of dolphin begging behaviour away from the provisioning area and its prevalence within the population.
The project will also make use of human surveys to explore the relevant socio-economical drivers of food provisioning in light of current and future management regimes. From a management perspective, it is essential to consider why tourists participate in food provisioning events, how important food provisioning is in the choice of a tourism destination and what would be their reaction (reflected in the economic revenue) if this practice was not available.
- Jan 2017- Jan 2019: data collection
- Dec 2017: preliminary results on short term effects of food provisioning
- May 2018: preliminary results for long-term effects of food provisioning
- Mar 2019: final results on socio-economic drivers of human-dolphin interactions in Bunbury, WA
- May 2019: final results on short term and long-term effects of food provisioning
- Jul 2019: final results for frequency and spread of dolphin begging behaviour and its correlation with food provisioning and human interactions
- Dec 2019: development of qualitative model of socio-ecological dynamics of human-wildlife conflict.
This study will inform on the potential impact of food provisioning on behavioural budget, survival rates, reproductive success and social structure characteristics of provisioned dolphins in Bunbury. The project will also shed light on the socio-economical drivers of the food provisioning practice in Bunbury. Ecological and social-economic data will be used to develop appropriate management frameworks. The goal is to mitigate impacts on the ecology of cetaceans while considering cultural and environmental characteristics.
Mann, J., Senigaglia, V., Jacoby, A. and Bejder, L. Forthcoming 2018. A Comparison of tourism and food-provisioning free-ranging dolphins at Monkey Mia and Bunbury, Australia. In: N. Carr and D. Broom (Eds). Animal Welfare and Tourism, CABI Publishing, Oxfordshire, UK
This research project is being carried out under a research permit from the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife, and with approval from the Murdoch University Animal and Human Ethics Committee.
- Christiansen, F., McHugh, K.A, Bejder, L., Siegal, E.M., Lusseau, D., McCabe, E.B., Lovewell, G and Wells, R.S. 2016. Food provisioning increases the risk of injury and mortality in a long-lived marine top predator. Royal Society of Open Science. 3(12): 160560 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160560
- Donaldson, R., Finn H., Bejder, L., Lusseau, D. and Calver, M. 2012. The social side of human-wildlife interaction: Wildlife can learn harmful behaviours from each other. Animal Conservation. 15: 427–435. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2012.00548.x
- Mann J. Connor R.C., Barre L.M. and Heithaus M.R. 2000. Female reproductive success in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp): life history, habitat, provisioning, and group-size effects. Behavioral Ecology. 2: 210 – 219
- Orams, M.B. 2002. Feeding wildlife as a tourism attraction: a review of issues and impacts. Tourism Management. 23: 281–293. DOI: 10.1016/S0261-5177(01)00080-2
- Samuels, A. and Bejder, L. 2004. Chronic interaction between humans and free-ranging bottlenose dolphins near Panama City Beach, Florida, USA. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management. 6: 69–77