Conservation management typically focuses on protecting wildlife habitat that is linked to important behaviours such as resting, breeding or caring for young. However, development of conservation strategies of social species would benefit from inclusion of social dynamics, particularly for species where social relationships influence fitness measures such as survival and reproduction. We combined the study of dolphin sociality, distribution and calving to identify important behavioural and ecological patterns to inform management. Over 3 consecutive years, 231 boat-based photo-identification surveys were conducted to individually identify adult female bottlenose dolphins over a 120 km2 area in Bunbury, Western Australia. The density distribution of female dolphins was highest in the inner waters during December–February (austral summer) and March (early autumn), which also coincided in time with the majority of calving. The temporal stability of social bonds between adult females was measured (using lagged association rates) and remained stable over multiple years. A cyclic model best described female–female associations with an annual peak occurring each austral summer (Dec–Jan–Feb). These results informed the implementation of a legislative no-go area and vessel speed restriction areas. In addition to conventional management approaches of protecting important habitat and breeding periods, our measure of dolphin sociality provides a new metric to consider in conservation efforts. We encourage studies on socially complex species to incorporate social dynamics when evaluating possible impacts of anthropogenic activities.