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Strandings as indicators of marine mammal biodiversity and human interactions off the coast of North Carolina

By Barbie L. Byrd, Aleta A. Hohn, Gretchen N. Lovewell, Karen M. Altman, Susan G. Marco, Ari Friedlaender, Craig A. Harms, William A. McLellan, Kathleen T. Moore, Patricia E. Rosel, Victoria G. Thayer

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The adjacency of 2 marine biogeographic regions off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina (NC), and the proximity of the Gulf Stream result in a high biodiversity of species from northern and southern provinces and from coastal and pelagic habitats. We examined spatiotemporal patterns of marine mammal strandings and evidence of human interaction for these strandings along NC shorelines and evaluated whether the spatiotemporal patterns and species diversity of the stranded animals reflected published records of populations in NC waters. During the period of 1997–2008, 1847 stranded animals were documented from 1777 reported events. These animals represented 9 families and 34 species that ranged from tropical delphinids to pagophilic seals. This biodiversity is higher than levels observed in other regions. Most strandings were of coastal bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) (56%), harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) (14%), and harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) (4%). Overall, strandings of northern species peaked in spring. Bottlenose dolphin strandings peaked in spring and fall. Almost half of the strandings, including southern delphinids, occurred north of Cape Hatteras, on only 30% of NC’s coastline. Most stranded animals that were positive for human interaction showed evidence of having been entangled in fishing gear, particularly bottlenose dolphins, harbor porpoises, short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), harbor seals, and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Spatiotemporal patterns of bottlenose dolphin strandings were similar to ocean gillnet fishing effort. Biodiversity of the animals stranded on the beaches reflected biodiversity in the waters off NC, albeit not always proportional to the relative abundance of species (e.g., Kogia species). Changes in the spatiotemporal patterns of strandings can serve as indicators of underlying changes due to anthropogenic or naturally occurring events in the source populations.


Katie Carroll

Date 2014
Publication Title Fishery Bulletin
Volume 112
Issue 1
Pages 1-23
ISBN/ISSN 0090-0656
Publisher United States National Marine Fisheries Service
Location of Publication 1315 East-West Highway Silver Spring, MD 20910
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals in culture
  2. Biodiversity
  3. Fish
  4. Human-animal interactions
  5. Mammals
  6. Marine mammals
  7. patterns
  8. Physical environment