Effects of tour boats on the behavior of bottlenose dolphins: Using Markov Chains to Model Anthropogenic Impacts

David Lusseau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

279 Citations (Scopus)


Nature-based tourism activities have been developing over the last decade, but it is still difficult to manage these activities sustainably. This sector is increasingly focusing on whales and dolphins in coastal communities, but the exact effects of these tourism activities are unclear. Markov chain modeling may help researchers assess the effects of tourism activities on the behavioral budget of small cetaceans. Matrix models have been used widely in population ecology to provide successful management guidelines. From June 2000 to August 2001, I collected information on the behavioral state of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops spp.) schools from a population residing in Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand. In addition, I recorded the occurrence of boat and dolphin interactions. I then calculated the transition probabilities of passing from one behavior to another by using a first-order, time-discrete Markov chain model. Behavioral transitions during which a boat-dolphin interaction occurred were compiled in an "impact" chain. All other transitions were tallied in a control chain. I then quantified the effect of boat-dolphin interactions during behavioral transitions by comparing the behavioral transition probabilities of both chains. Socializing and resting behaviors were disrupted by interactions with boats to a level that raises concern. Both the duration of bouts and the total amount of time spent in both these behavioral states were substantially decreased. Dolphins were significantly more likely to be travelling after an interaction with a boat. However, the overall behavioral budget of the population was not significantly affected. Therefore, the bottlenose dolphin population seems to be able to sustain the present level of boat interactions because of its low intensity. More effort is needed to develop prognosis analyses in order to understand how the effect of boat interactions on dolphins changes with variations in intensity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1785-1793
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003


  • Tursiops-Truncatus
  • New-Zealand
  • responses
  • whale
  • bay
  • swimmers


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