Changing distribution of the east coast of Scotland bottlenose dolphin population and the challenges of area‐based management

Mònica Arso Civil* (Corresponding Author), Nicola J. Quick, Barbara Cheney, Enrico Pirotta, Paul M. Thompson, Phil S. Hammond

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
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1. The efficacy of marine protected areas (MPAs) depends on clear conservation objectives and ecologically meaningful boundaries. The east coast of Scotland bottlenose dolphin population expanded its distributional range during the 1990s beyond the boundaries of the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in the Moray Firth, originally proposed to contain their core area of distribution. Two decades on, this study assesses the importance for this population of St Andrews Bay and the Tay estuary, 300 km south of the SAC.

2. Photo-identification data from 2009 to 2015 were analysed using mark-recapture models to investigate the proportion of the population that uses St Andrews Bay and the Tay estuary. Habitat models were fitted to bottlenose dolphin presence-absence data to identify areas of high use.

3. The estimated number of dolphins using St Andrews Bay and the Tay estuary during the summer increased from 91 (95% CI 78-106) in 2009 to 114 (95% CI 95-137) in 2015, representing, on average, 52.5% of the total estimated east coast population for that period. Spatial mixing of individuals during the summer between St Andrews Bay and the Tay estuary and the Moray Firth SAC was estimated to be a minimum of ~6% per year and ~30% over the study period. The entrance to the Firth of Tay and waters around Montrose were identified as areas of consistent high use.

4. The importance of St Andrews Bay and the Tay estuary reconfirms that effective monitoring of the population requires dedicated effort in both this area and the SAC. The results lead to consideration of the wider context of area-based management for the conservation/management of highly mobile wide20 ranging species and human activities that might impact them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-196
Number of pages19
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Issue numberS1
Early online date6 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

MAC received funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) (now Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) UK, and the MASTS (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland) pooling initiative. MASTS is funded by the Scottish Funding Council (grant reference HR09011) and contributing institutions. Annual surveys were funded by DECC, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd., Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd, Marine Scotland, The Crown Estate, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Universities of St Andrews and Aberdeen. All fieldwork was carried out under SNH Animal Scientific Licences to PMT and PSH. The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

We thank John Baxter for helpful discussions about the implications for conservation and management while drafting this manuscript, and Morven Carruthers for her advice on the site condition monitoring for the Moray Firth SAC. This manuscript benefited from the helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers.


  • coastal
  • conservation evaluation
  • estuary
  • mammals
  • Special Area of Conservation
  • special area of conservation


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