Bottlenose Dolphin Responses to Boat Traffic Affected by Boat Characteristics and Degree of Compliance to Code of Conduct
sustainable ocean; UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development; marine traffic management; Marine Protected Area; bottlenose dolphins; Cardigan Bay
Levels of boat traffic in coastal seas have been steadily increasing in many parts of the world, introducing pressures on marine wildlife through disturbance. The appropriate management of human activities is important not only to preserve wildlife, but also for the local communities that depend on ecotourism for employment and their economy. This study presents further insight into bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) responses to boats in New Quay Bay (West Wales) within the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation. This region is heavily dependent on wildlife tourism, and marine traffic is regulated through a long-standing Code of Conduct. Based on a long-term dataset spanning the months of April to October and the years 2010–2018, the study found that compliance to a code of human behaviour increased dolphin positive responses towards boats. Dolphin responses to individual named boats and to different boat types were examined in greater detail. Speed boats, small motorboats, and kayaks were found to break the code most often, resulting in higher rates of negative response by dolphins. Visitor passenger boats formed the majority of boat traffic in the area, and showed greater compliance than other general recreational crafts. Suggestions are made for the better protection of the coastal dolphin population, as well as the role that citizen science can play to help achieve this goal through working directly with wildlife trip boats and the recruitment of local observers.