Pregnancy is a drag: hydrodynamics, kinematics and performance in pre- and post-parturition bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

  • Noren S
  • Redfern J
  • Edwards E
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Constraints on locomotion could be an important component of the cost of reproduction as carrying an increased load associated with eggs or developing fetuses may contribute to decreased locomotor performance for females across taxa and environments. Diminished performance could increase susceptibility to predation, yet the mechanism(s) by which gravidity and pregnancy affect locomotion remains largely unexplored. Here we demonstrate that morphology, hydrodynamics and kinematics were altered during pregnancy, providing a mechanism for diminished locomotor performance in two near-term pregnant (10 days pre-parturition) bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Near-term pregnancy resulted in a 51±14% increase in frontal surface area, coinciding with dramatic increases in drag forces while gliding. For example, pregnant females encountered 80 N of drag at 1.7 m s–1 whereas that magnitude of drag was not encountered until speed doubled for females 18 months post-parturition. Indeed, drag coefficients based on frontal surface area were significantly greater during pregnancy (Cd,F=0.22±0.04) than at 18 months post-parturition (Cd,F=0.09±0.01). Pregnancy also induced a gait change as stroke amplitude and distance per stroke were reduced by 13 and 14%, respectively, compared with non-pregnant periods (1–24 months post-parturition). This was concomitant with a 62 and 44% reduction in mean and maximum swim speeds, respectively, during the pregnancy period. Interestingly, attack speeds of known predators of dolphins surpass maximum speeds for the pregnant dolphins in this study. Thus, pregnant dolphins may be more susceptible to predation. This study demonstrates unequivocally that changes in morphology, hydrodynamics and kinematics are associated with diminished performance during pregnancy in dolphins.

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  • S. R. Noren

  • J. V. Redfern

  • E. F. Edwards

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