AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

Age, growth, reproduction and sexual dimorphism of the striped dolphin, Stenella coeruleoalba, off the south-east coast of southern Africa

by Amy Ruth Bishop

Institution: Rhodes University
Department: Faculty of Science, Zoology and Entomology
Degree: MS
Year: 2014
Keywords: Striped dolphin  – Conservation  – Africa, Southern; Striped dolphin  – Development  – Africa, Southern; Striped dolphin  – Africa, Southern  – Reproduction; Striped dolphin  – Age determination  – Africa, Southern; Dolphins  – Conservation  – Africa, Southern; Dolphins  – Development  – Africa, Southern; Dolphins  – Africa, Southern  – Reproduction; Dolphins  – Age determination  – Africa, Southern; Dimorphism (Animals)
Record ID: 1471746
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1011600


The striped dolphin, Stenella coeruleoalba, is an oceanic dolphin found worldwide in tropical to warm temperate waters. Globally populations are threatened through direct fishing, bycatch and pollution. Little is known about the life history of this species in South African waters and it is currently listed as ‘Data Deficient’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Critical to the conservation and management of this species is an understanding of basic life history parameters. For the present study, metadata and tissues from 101 stranded S. coeruleoalba along the south-east coast of southern Africa between 1969 and 2012 were analyzed to examine age and growth, male and female reproduction and sexual dimorphism. Age and growth were determined by counting the number of growth layer groups (GLG’s) present in their teeth. A von Bertalanffy growth curve gave the best fit to the data and indicated that physical maturity was reached around 21 years in males and 18 years in females. Additionally, asymptotic lengths were reached at 231cm and 224cm in males and females, respectively. The maximum ages obtained were 21 years for males and 20 years for females. Length at birth was estimated to be between 116cm and 119cm for males and between 112cm and 114cm for females. The reproductive status of the adult dolphins was assessed by histological and macroscopic analyses of gonadal tissue. Sexual maturity was attained before physical maturity in both sexes. The males reached sexual maturity between 8 and 12 years of age and between 209 and 224cm in total body length. The maximum combined testis weight comprised about 0.24% of the total body weight and sexual maturity was reached between a combined testis weight of 16 and 41g, a mean testis length of 8 and 10cm, and a mean seminiferous tubule diameter of 44 and 70μm. Females attained sexual maturity between 7 and 8 years of age and between 213 and 216 cm in total body length. The ovulation rate was 0.32 per year and the majority of ovulations occurred in the left ovary, with ovulations occurring in the right ovary only in individuals older than 10 years of age. The annual pregnancy rate was calculated to be 26%. Reproductive seasonality could not be established due to the small sample size and the absence of samples throughout the year. However, both conceptions and births appear to occur in both August and December/January. Additionally, testis weight and seminiferous tubule diameters appear to fluctuate throughout the year, which could suggest reproductive seasonality in this species. Sexual size dimorphism in mature adults was evident for a number of external measurements, however, sexual shape dimorphism was not present in this species. Mature males had significantly longer and wider pectoral fins, dorsal fins and flukes than females (p<0.05 in all cases). It was suggested that the larger appendages are required for male on male combat during intraspecific competition for females. Additionally, larger appendages aid in thermoregulation, propulsion and…