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Prey and Feeding Patterns of Resident Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Sarasota Bay, Florida

Nélio B. Barros, Randall S. Wells
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1383114 1045-1059 First published online: 21 August 1998


Stomach contents of a resident community of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the Sarasota Bay area of the westcentral coast of Florida were studied to examine potential factors leading to patterns of habitat use. Composition and size of prey were analyzed and correlated with feeding behavior of individual dolphins of known histories. Examination of stomach contents of 16 stranded dolphins revealed a diet composed exclusively of fish (蠅15 species), most of which were associated with seagrasses in varying degrees. Observational records for 蠄21 years showed that feeding typically occurred in shallow (2–3 m) waters and in the vicinity of seagrasses in 23% of cases. Dolphins usually fed alone or in small groups and on non-obligate schooling prey. The main species of prey were soniferous, an indication that passive listening may be important in detection of prey. The close agreement between species of fishes represented in stomach contents and habitat of prey, as indicated by observations of feeding, suggests that analysis of stomach contents is a reasonable approach for studying prey and feeding patterns of dolphins. Meadows of seagrass are one of the habitats of importance to dolphins in the Sarasota Bay area, and their protection is important for conservation of these animals.

Key words
  • Tursiops truncatus
  • bottlenose dolphin
  • feeding
  • food habits
  • seagrass meadows