Current estimates of marine mammal hydrodynamic forces tend to be made using camera-based kinematic data for a limited number of fluke strokes during a prescribed swimming task. In contrast, biologging tag data yield kinematic measurements from thousands of strokes, enabling new insights into swimming behavior and mechanics. However, there have been limited tag-based estimates of mechanical work and power. In this work, we investigated bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) swimming behavior using tag-measured kinematics and a hydrodynamic model to estimate propulsive power, work and cost of transport. Movement data were collected from six animals during prescribed straight-line swimming trials to investigate swimming mechanics over a range of sustained speeds (1.9–6.1 m s−1). Propulsive power ranged from 66 W to 3.8 kW over 282 total trials. During the lap trials, the dolphins swam at depths that mitigated wave drag, reducing overall drag throughout these mid- to high-speed tasks. Data were also collected from four individuals during undirected daytime (08:30–18:00 h) swimming to examine how self-selected movement strategies are used to modulate energetic efficiency and effort. Overall, self-selected swimming speeds (individual means ranging from 1.0 to 1.96 m s−1) tended to minimize cost of transport, and were on the lower range of animal-preferred speeds reported in literature. The results indicate that these dolphins moderate propulsive effort and efficiency through a combination of speed and depth regulation. This work provides new insights into dolphin swimming behavior in both prescribed tasks and self-selected swimming, and presents a path forward for continuous estimates of mechanical work and power from wild animals.

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