Fractal analysis reveals pernicious stress levels related to boat presence and type in the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops aduncus

Laurent Seuront, Nardi Cribb

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)


    The stress induced in the IndoPacific bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops aduncus, by boat presence and type was investigated in a highly urbanized coastal environment, the Port Adelaide River-Barker Inlet Estuary, South Australia. The level of stress experienced by bottlenose dolphins was inferred from the distribution patterns of their dive durations. Dive duration has previously been shown to increase under boat traffic conditions, and is considered as a typical avoidance behavior. Dive durations were opportunistically recorded from land-based stations between January 2008 and October 2010 in the absence of boat traffic, and in the presence of kayaks, inflatable motor boats, powerboats and fishing boats. Subsequent analyses were based on nearly 6000 behavioral observations. No significant differences in dive durations were found between control observations (i.e. absence of boats) and boat interferences, which could erroneously lead to conclude that boat traffic did not induce any stress in T. aduncus. In contrast, the scaling exponents of the cumulative probability distribution of dive durations obtained in the absence of boat traffic and under different conditions of boat interferences show (i) that the presence of boats affected the complexity of dive duration patterns and (ii) that stress levels were a function of boat type. Specifically, the complexity of dive duration patterns (estimated by the scaling exponent φ) did not significantly differ between control behavioral observations and behavioral observations conducted in the presence of kayaks. A significant increased in behavioral stress (i.e. decreasing values of φ) was, however, induced by the presence of fishing boats, motorized inflatable boats and powerboats. This demonstrates that traditional approaches based on the analysis of averaged behavioral metrics may not be sensitive enough to detect changes in the distribution pattern of behavioral sequences, hence underestimate the potential consequences of e.g. chronic exposure to low levels of stress. It is finally emphasized that fractal analyses of behavioral variables, and in particular the analysis of their cumulative probability distribution function, may provide a non-invasive, objective and quantitative framework that can be used to assess the changes in stress response, and subsequently evaluate the welfare status of organisms under various conditions of abiotic and/or biotic stress.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2333-2339
    Number of pages7
    JournalPhysica A-Statistical Mechanics and Its Applications
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2011


    • Animal welfare
    • Anthropogenic disturbance
    • Behavior
    • Dolphin
    • Fractal
    • Scaling
    • Stress


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