Abstract: Although opportunistic data collected from wildlife ecotours can provide useful information on marine mammal distribution and behavior, concerns exist about whether resultant analyses have diminished accuracy due to spatial bias. To address these concerns, this study compared common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) habitat use results derived from standardized boat-based photographic-identification surveys and opportunistic photographic-identification surveys conducted during wildlife ecotours in Roanoke Sound, North Carolina. The main objectives of this study were to (1) identify areas of importance to dolphins, (2) identify activities (feed, mill, social, and travel) most often observed in these areas, and (3) determine the consistency of habitat use results between standardized and opportunistic surveys. Standardized survey hot spots for feeding and travel were located in southern Roanoke Sound according to the hot spot (Getis-Ord Gi*) spatial statistic. Conversely, opportunistic survey hot spots for feeding and travel were detected in central Roanoke Sound near the wildlife ecotour launch site. Opportunistic survey effort was concentrated around the ecotour launch site which introduced spatial bias by overestimating dolphin density in this area. These hot spot location differences between survey methods indicate that opportunistic survey results are affected by spatial bias which can lead to inaccurate conclusions about dolphin habitat use. Hot spot results of standardized data without survey effort supported the conclusion that spatial bias affected opportunistic habitat use results. This study provides a direct comparison of standardized and opportunistic datasets and demonstrates the importance of controlling for survey effort when examining marine mammal distribution and habitat use.
Key Words: habitat utilization, marine mammal distribution, platform of opportunity, presence-only data, spatial bias, cetacean, hot spot (Getis-Ord Gi*) spatial statistic
Document: Article
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1578/AM.45.1.2019.21
Page Numbers: 21-29

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