U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE, 25(1): 137–160 ( January 2009).


We radio tracked 20 pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuate) in the pelagic waters of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean during three research cruises in 1992, 1993, and 2001. Dolphins were tracked for up to 6 d from 20 to 1,000 km offshore. Seventeen of these dolphins also carried time–depth recorders, nine of which were recovered with a combined total of 477 h of dive data. The movement data suggested that the dolphins associate with areas of relatively high biological productivity. Dolphins close to shore moved along the continental slope, while some dolphins traveled farther offshore along thermocline “ridges.” Tracking and tagging multiple dolphins demonstrated the dynamic nature of dolphin herds, which change size and membership over the course of a day. At night, the dolphins traveled more slowly but dove deeper and longer, with more rapid ascents and descents than during daylight hours. These nighttime dive characteristics support the hypothesis suggested by some food habit studies that spotted dolphins are nocturnal feeders. Comparison of dive data with acoustic backscatter data indicates that spotted dolphins typically begin and end nighttime feeding activities with dusk and dawn diving bouts that track the vertical migration of organisms associated with the deep scattering layer.