[MARMAM] M.Sc. Thesis on short-finned pilot whale social organization in Hawaii

Sabre Mahaffy Mahaffys at cascadiaresearch.org
Tue Mar 13 09:32:24 PDT 2012

The following thesis was recently accepted by Portland State University:

Mahaffy, S.D. 2012. Site fidelity, associations and long-term bonds of short-finned pilot whales off the island of Hawai‘i. M.Sc. Thesis, Portland State University. 151 pp.

ABSTRACT: Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are the most frequently sighted odontocete in a long-term study in Hawai‘i (representing 23.8% of all odontocete sightings from directed research efforts), yet little has been published on this species in Hawaiian waters.  Studies elsewhere have suggested that short-finned pilot whales travel in stable mixed-sex groups composed of strongly associated individuals; however temporal analyses of social structure are lacking.  To examine site fidelity, association patterns and temporal relationships, I analyzed data from 267 directed research and opportunistic encounters of short-finned pilot whales off the island of Hawai‘i from 2003 through 2007.  Sightings occurred year-round.  Analysis of sighting depths in relation to effort indicated short-finned pilot whales are strongly associated with the island slope, with no sightings in water >2,700m deep despite effort to ~5,000m.  Using only good-quality photos, I identified 448 distinctive individuals; of these, 305 (68.1%) were seen more than once and 250 (55.8%) were seen in >1 year. Sighting histories varied from 1-29 sightings per individual (median=3) over the course of the study, suggesting only some individuals exhibit high site fidelity.  Degree of residency was assessed using multi-year site fidelity to the study area; individuals seen ≥5 times in ≥3 years were considered core residents (154 individuals), individuals who fell below these criteria but that were seen more than once were termed residents (150 individuals) and those seen on a single occasion were termed visitors (142 individuals).  Only 71.9% of the whales were linked by association into a single social network, suggesting the possibility of multiple populations using the study area. Individuals demonstrated preferential associations and community division was strongly supported by average-linkage hierarchical cluster analysis of the association data.  Nine longitudinally-stable social units composed of key individuals (seen toget
her ≥8 times in ≥4 years) and their constant companions (seen together ≥5 times in ≥3 years) were identified (unit membership 5-16, median=10.5; mean unit association index: 0.62-0.90).  Qualitative assignment of age and sex classes to unit members indicated that some segregation between adult males and female/calf pairs may occur.  Temporal analysis using standardized lagged association rates of individuals grouped in the same encounter produced a best-fit model where dyads gradually disassociated over time while individuals grouped in the same day produced a model where dyads remained in association, suggesting companions not documented during an encounter are likely still present in the study area.  Differential patterns of residency and site fidelity were unexpected and may be indicative of multiple populations around the main Hawaiian Islands.  Additionally, the presence of a core resident population demonstrating strong, long-term site fidelity and associations off the island of Hawai‘i may warrant special management considerations.  Evidence of fisheries-related injuries in addition to anthropogenic threats such as high levels of commercial and recreational vessel traffic, targeted tourist activities, and commercial and sports troll fisheries indicate that additional research is needed to evaluate potential threats to this island-associated population.  

A PDF copy can be downloaded from www.cascadiaresearch.org and more information on short-finned pilot whales in Hawaii can be found at www.cascadiaresearch.org/hawaii/shortfinnedpilotwhale.htm




Sabre Mahaffy, Research Biologist

Cascadia Research Collective

218 1/2 W. 4th Ave.

Olympia, WA 98501



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