The Istanbul Strait is an important cetacean habitat that is intensely used by humans. Yet little is known about their spatial-temporal distribution. To understand the encounter rates and residency patterns of bottlenose dolphins, photo-identification data were collected between 2011 and 2016 in the Istanbul Strait. The study showed that bottlenose dolphins are a regular, year-round component of the strait. The encounter rate was estimated to be four groups (22 individuals) per 10 km. The adjacent waters of Marmara Sea and Black Sea, that host relatively less marine traffic, had the highest number of encounters in the area. Conversely, the middle sections had the lowest number of encounters but the highest marine vessel density. Further, the encounter rates dropped to zero in the fishing zones, where the number of purse seines reached up to 100 per day. Additionally, dolphins showed varying degrees of residency patterns, with multi-year re-sightings. Maximum re-sighting distance was up to 35 km, which is more than the total length of the strait. This movement pattern should be investigated as it might reveal possible migration between local populations. This study finds that the Istanbul Strait serves as a critical habitat for the regional bottlenose dolphin populations and they are likely to be a part of a resident local population with a home range extending the length of the strait. Dedicated surveys with inter-regional collaborations are needed to evaluate the home range and population status of this endangered species for their effective conservation in one of the busiest waterways of the world.