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Inferring spatial and temporal behavioral patterns of free-ranging manatees using saltwater sensors of telemetry tags

January 1, 2015

Diving or respiratory behavior in aquatic mammals can be used as an indicator of physiological activity and consequently, to infer behavioral patterns. Five Antillean manatees, Trichechus manatus manatus, were captured in Chetumal Bay and tagged with GPS tracking devices. The radios were equipped with a micropower saltwater sensor (SWS), which records the times when the tag assembly was submerged. The information was analyzed to establish individual fine-scale behaviors. For each fix, we established the following variables: distance (D), sampling interval (T), movement rate (D/T), number of dives (N), and total diving duration (TDD). We used logic criteria and simple scatterplots to distinguish between behavioral categories: ‘Travelling’ (D/T ≥ 3 km/h), ‘Surface’ (↓TDD, ↓N), ‘Bottom feeding’ (↑TDD, ↑N) and ‘Bottom resting’ (↑TDD, ↓N). Habitat categories were qualitatively assigned: Lagoon, Channels, Caye shore, City shore, Channel edge, and Open areas. The instrumented individuals displayed a daily rhythm of bottom activities, with surfacing activities more frequent during the night and early in the morning. More investigation into those cycles and other individual fine-scale behaviors related to their proximity to concentrations of human activity would be informative

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