[MARMAM] New Publication: Crittercam Offers Insight into the Competitive Behavior of Humpback Whales on Their Hawaiian Wintering Grounds

Elia Herman elia.herman at duke.edu
Fri Mar 21 13:15:01 PDT 2008

Aloha colleagues:
We are pleased to inform you of a new publication using Crittercam to study
the underwater behavior and mating system of humpback whales in Hawaiian
waters.  If you would like a pdf, please contact elia.herman at duke.edu.

*Herman, E. Y. K., Herman, L. M., Pack, A. A., Marshall, G., Shepard, C. M.,
Bakhtiari, M. Winter 2007/2008. When Whales Collide: Crittercam Offers
Insight into the Competitive Behavior of Humpback Whales on Their Hawaiian
Wintering Grounds. Marine Technology Society Journal, 41(4): 35-43.*


Despite years of study, the humpback whale mating system remains an enigma.
Sustained observations of subsurface behavior may help reveal important
components of the mating system. In 2005 and 2006, we deployed Crittercam,
an animal-borne imaging and data-logging tool, on humpback whales in their
winter grounds. We focused our efforts on competitive groups, believed to be
the epicenter of mate selection. Over 27 days of fieldwork in Maui waters we
deployed 10 front- or rear-facing Crittercams on escorts (males) in
competitive groups. This work revealed: (1) Five whales swimming to depths
of over 150 m, with one animal diving down 298 m; (2) Instances of
competitive behavior (inflated pleats, chasing) occurring along the
seafloor; (3) The displacement of a primary escort (the whale closest to the
female) by a challenger; (4) A detailed time budget of one principal escort
maintaining his position over a 73-min observation window; (5) Threats and
body strikes between secondary escorts; (6) Apparent affiliative behavior by
females, including possible pectoral fin stroking of a principal escort and
drafting in a principal escort's pressure wave; and (7) A secondary escort
resting on the bottom while sculling its pectoral fins through the
substrate, throwing up clouds of sand. In summary, Crittercam allowed us to
observe diving behavior and sustained micro-interactions between animals in
competitive groups occurring far below the surface. Such observations can
have significant bearing on interpretation of the mating system by assisting
in uncovering behaviors that may be involved in mate guarding, dominance
hierarchies, and female choice.

(c) Winter 2007/2008 Marine Technology Society Journal

Elia Y. K. Herman
Masters of Environmental Management Candidate, 2008
Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
Duke University
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