Estimating the Cost of Locomotion in Common Bottlenose Dolphins: Calibration, Validation, and Application to Study the Impacts of Disturbance

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



Estimates of the energetic costs of locomotion (COL) are necessary to understand one of the potential impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on marine mammals. A new generation of biologging devices has enabled the measurement of fine-scale behavioral responses to disturbance, but calibration experiments are required to convert these measured changes in activity level into energy expenditure. Such calibrations have been conducted in many terrestrial and avian taxa but, due to logistical constraints, have been performed with only a few marine mammals. Very few studies have tested these calibrations against independent estimates of energy expenditure, such as measurements of caloric intake and the doubly labeled water (DLW) method. Calibration studies will help us to better understand how best to estimate energy expenditure from activity measurements. In my dissertation, I ask whether short-term increases in activity caused by disturbance may impact marine mammal energy budgets. I address this question with the long-term resident community of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) living in Sarasota Bay, Florida, which experiences very high levels of traffic from small vessels. I first correlated overall dynamic body acceleration (ODBA) and energy expenditure with bottlenose dolphins in human care. I combined measurements of ODBA derived from accelerometry tags with respirometry during submerged swim trials. I then subtracted measured resting metabolic rate (RMR) from the energy expenditure of each trial to estimate COL. I found a linear relationship between ODBA and COL. Next, I deployed tags on the same dolphins for longer periods (24 hours) and combined COL, RMR, and specific dynamic action (SDA; energy expenditure associated with digestion) to estimate total daily energy expenditure. I compared this estimate of total daily expenditure with estimates derived from measurements of caloric intake records and DLW. The COL+RMR+SDA values largely agreed with the calories ingested, but the smaller DLW sample was considerably more variable. I then used the correlation between ODBA and COL to estimate the cumulative energetic costs associated with responses to vessels by wild dolphins in Sarasota. I analyzed 12 digital acoustic tag (DTAG) records for the presence or absence of vessels. I used periods without vessels as controls to calculate baseline estimates of COL for each animal. I then subtracted this baseline from total COL to derive the cumulative COL attributable to vessels. The overall increase in COL attributable to the response to vessels was less than 0.3% of estimated daily energy expenditure, suggesting that avoidance, while necessary to prevent injury or death, does not contribute significantly to the daily energy budgets of these dolphins. The methods I developed can be applied to a variety of other marine mammals to study the fitness consequences of anthropogenic disturbance. Future studies should focus on sensitive species that are likely to exhibit significant avoidance responses to acoustic stimuli.





Allen, Austin Stone (2021). Estimating the Cost of Locomotion in Common Bottlenose Dolphins: Calibration, Validation, and Application to Study the Impacts of Disturbance. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.