High site-fidelity in common bottlenose dolphins despite low salinity exposure and associated indicators of compromised health

Ryan Takeshita*, Brian C. Balmer, Francesca Messina, Eric S. Zolman, Len Thomas, Randall S. Wells, Cynthia R. Smith, Teresa K. Rowles, Lori H. Schwacke, William David Halliday (Editor)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


More than 2,000 common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) inhabit the Barataria Bay Estuarine System in Louisiana, USA, a highly productive estuary with variable salinity driven by natural and man-made processes. It was unclear whether dolphins that are long-term residents to specific areas within the basin move in response to fluctuations in salinity, which at times can decline to 0 parts per thousand in portions of the basin. In June 2017, we conducted health assessments and deployed satellite telemetry tags on dolphins in the northern portions of the Barataria Bay Estuarine System Stock area (9 females; 4 males). We analyzed their fine-scale movements relative to modeled salinity trends compared to dolphins tagged near the barrier islands (higher salinity environments) from 2011 to 2017 (37 females; 21 males). Even though we observed different movement patterns among individual dolphins, we found no evidence that tagged dolphins moved coincident with changes in salinity. One tagged dolphin spent at least 35 consecutive days, and 75 days in total, in salinity under 5 parts per thousand. Health assessments took place early in a seasonal period of decreased salinity. Nonetheless, we found an increased prevalence of skin lesions, as well as abnormalities in serum biochemical markers and urine:serum osmolality ratios for dolphins sampled in lower salinity areas. This study provides essential information on the likely behavioral responses of dolphins to changes in salinity (e.g., severe storms or from the proposed Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project) and on physiological markers to inform the timing and severity of impacts from low salinity exposure.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0258031
Number of pages25
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2021


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