Identifying key demographic parameters of a small island–associated population of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Reunion, Indian Ocean)
Photo-identification surveys of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins were conducted from 2009 to 2014 off Reunion Island (55°E33’/21°S07’), in the Indian Ocean. Robust Design models were applied to produce the most reliable estimate of population abundance and survival rate, while accounting for temporary emigration from the survey area (west coast). The sampling scheme consisted of a five-month (June–October) sampling period in each year of the study. The overall population size at Reunion was estimated to be 72 individuals (SE = 6.17, 95%CI = 61–85), based on a random temporary emigration (γ”) of 0.096 and a proportion of 0.70 (SE = 0.03) distinct individuals. The annual survival rate was 0.93 (±0.018 SE, 95%CI = 0.886–0.958) and was constant over time and between sexes. Models considering gender groups indicated different movement patterns between males and females. Males showed null or quasi-null temporary emigration (γ” = γ’ < 0.01), while females showed a random temporary emigration (γ”) of 0.10, suggesting that a small proportion of females was outside the survey area during each primary sampling period. Sex-specific temporary migration patterns were consistent with movement and residency patterns observed in other areas. The Robust Design approach provided an appropriate sampling scheme for deriving island-associated population parameters, while allowing to restrict survey effort both spatially (i.e. west coast only) and temporally (five months per year). Although abundance and survival were stable over the six years, the small population size of fewer than 100 individuals suggested that this population is highly vulnerable. Priority should be given to reducing any potential impact of human activity on the population and its habitat.