Quantitative analysis of bottlenose dolphin movement patterns and their relationship with foraging

Helen Rebecca Bailey, Paul Michael Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


Broad-scale telemetry studies have greatly improved our understanding of the ranging patterns and habitat-use of many large vertebrates. However, there often remains considerable uncertainty over the function of different areas or the factors influencing habitat selection. Further insights into these processes can be obtained through analyses of finer scale movement patterns. For example, search behaviour may be modified in response to prey distribution and abundance.

In this study, quantitative analysis techniques are applied to the movements of bottlenose dolphins, recorded from land using a theodolite, to increase our understanding of their foraging strategies. Movements were modelled as a correlated random walk (CRW) and a biased random walk (BRW) to identify movement types and using a first-passage time (FPT) approach, which quantifies the time allocated to different areas and identifies the location and spatial scale of intensive search effort.

Only a quarter of the tracks were classed as CRW movement. Turning angle and directionality appeared to be key factors in determining the type of movement adopted. A high degree of overlap in search effort between separate movement paths indicated that there were small key sites (0.3 km radius) within the study area (4 km(2)). Foraging behaviour occurred mainly within these intensive search areas, indicating that they were feeding sites.

This approach provides a quantitative method of identifying important foraging areas and their spatial scale. Such techniques could be applied to movement paths for a variety of species derived from telemetry studies and increase our understanding of their foraging strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-465
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


  • correlated random walk
  • first-passage time
  • search paths
  • spatial scale
  • area-restricted search
  • tuna thunnus-thynuss
  • habitat use
  • marine predator
  • eubalaena-glacialis
  • sampling methods
  • juvenile plaice
  • random-walks
  • right whales
  • behavior


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