Year of Publication

2017

Season of Publication

Summer

Paper Type

Master's Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (MS)

Department

Biology

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Quincy Gibson

Second Advisor

Dr. J. David Lambert

Third Advisor

Dr. Eric Johnson

Department Chair

Dr. Cliff Ross

College Dean

Dr. George Rainbolt

Abstract

The development of effective management plans for animal populations relies on an understanding of how the population is utilizing the habitat as well as the identification of any critical habitat areas. The St. Johns River (SJR), an urban estuary with a high level of anthropogenic disturbance, is home to a resident population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). In chapter one, SJR dolphin habitat use patterns, the factors that influenced these patterns, and the critical habitat areas were identified. Significant associations were found in most pair-wise comparisons between season, behavioral state, group size, water depth, and location, indicating that the overall habitat use patterns of SJR dolphins were influenced by complex interactions among these variables. Additionally, two critical habitat areas were identified. Both critical habitats had high levels of anthropogenic activity and the SJR will undergo further development during the Jacksonville Port expansion project. In conjunction with increasing levels of activity, anthropogenic sound can have numerous effects on cetaceans including the masking of signals, alterations in behavior, abandonment of critical habitats, and physiological stress. In chapter two, the soundscape of the SJR was characterized to evaluate the potential impacts of anthropogenic sound on SJR dolphins. Sound levels in the SJR were consistently high and anthropogenic sound was pervasive throughout the river. Therefore, the dolphins in the SJR are at risk of experiencing long-term behavioral and physiological stress due to anthropogenic sound. Together, this work provides valuable knowledge about dolphin habitat use and the soundscape ecology of an urbanized estuary that will enable more informed management decisions and hopefully lead to more effective conservation practices.

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