Concept: Pilot whale
Classic life-history theory predicts that menopause should not occur because there should be no selection for survival after the cessation of reproduction . Yet, human females routinely live 30 years after they have stopped reproducing . Only two other species-killer whales (Orcinus orca) and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) [3, 4]-have comparable postreproductive lifespans. In theory, menopause can evolve via inclusive fitness benefits [5, 6], but the mechanisms by which postreproductive females help their kin remain enigmatic. One hypothesis is that postreproductive females act as repositories of ecological knowledge and thereby buffer kin against environmental hardships [7, 8]. We provide the first test of this hypothesis using a unique long-term dataset on wild resident killer whales. We show three key results. First, postreproductively aged females lead groups during collective movement in salmon foraging grounds. Second, leadership by postreproductively aged females is especially prominent in difficult years when salmon abundance is low. This finding is critical because salmon abundance drives both mortality and reproductive success in resident killer whales [9, 10]. Third, females are more likely to lead their sons than they are to lead their daughters, supporting predictions of recent models  of the evolution of menopause based on kinship dynamics. Our results show that postreproductive females may boost the fitness of kin through the transfer of ecological knowledge. The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female resident killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing.
Mass strandings of whales and dolphins have puzzled biologists since Aristotle. Although environmental factors are often assumed to initiate strandings, social forces must also influence the dynamics of many of these events, particularly for the primary species involved in mass strandings, the long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas). Here, we test two hypotheses derived from common assumptions about the social dynamics of long-finned pilot whales by identifying maternal lineages from mtDNA haplotypes and inferring kinship from microsatellite genotypes of 490 individuals from 12 stranding events. Contrary to the “extended matriline” hypothesis, we found that multiple maternal lineages were present in at least 9 of the 12 mass strandings. Contrary to the “kinship cohesion” hypothesis, we found no correlation between spatial distribution and kinship along the stranding beach. Most notably, we documented the spatial disruption of the expected proximity between mothers and their dependent calves. These results challenge the common assumption that kinship-based behavior, such as care-giving, are a primary factor in these mass strandings. We suggest instead that disruption of kinship bonds could result from interactions among unrelated social groups during feeding or mating aggregations, perhaps playing a causal role in these events. Our finding that dependent calves were often spatially separated or absent from their mothers has important implications for humane management of rescue efforts. To improve our understanding of the social causes and consequences of mass strandings, future documentation of strandings should include exhaustive DNA sampling, with accompanying spatial and temporal records.
Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) are rare visitors to the southern North Sea, but recently two individual strandings occurred on the Dutch coast. Both animals shared the same, unusual cause of death: asphyxiation from a common sole (Solea solea) stuck in their nasal cavity. This is a rare cause of death in cetaceans. Whilst asphyxiation has been reported in smaller odontocetes, there are no recent records of this occurring in Globicephala species. Here we report the stranding, necropsy and diet study results as well as discuss the unusual nature of this phenomenon. Flatfish are not a primary prey species for pilot whales and are rarely eaten by other cetaceans, such as harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), in which there are several reports of asphyxiation due to airway obstruction by soles. This risk may be due to the fish’s flexible bodies which can enter small cavities either actively in an attempt to escape or passively due to the whale ‘coughing’ or ‘sneezing’ to rid itself of the blockage of the trachea. It is also possible that the fish enter the airways whilst the whale is re-articulating the larynx after trying to ingest large, oddly shaped prey. It is unlikely that the soles entered the airways after the death of the whales and we believe therefore that they are responsible for the death of these animals.
In May of 2011, a live mass stranding of 26 short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) occurred in the lower Florida Keys. Five surviving whales were transferred from the original stranding site to a nearby marine mammal rehabilitation facility where they were constantly attended to by a team of volunteers. Bacteria cultured during the routine clinical care of the whales and necropsy of a deceased whale included methicillin-sensitive and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA and MRSA). In order to investigate potential sources or reservoirs of MSSA and MRSA, samples were obtained from human volunteers, whales, seawater, and sand from multiple sites at the facility, nearby recreational beaches, and a canal. Samples were collected on 3 days. The second collection day was 2 weeks after the first, and the third collection day was 2 months after the last animal was removed from the facility. MRSA and MSSA were isolated on each day from the facility when animals and volunteers were present. MSSA was found at an adjacent beach on all three collection days. Isolates were characterized by utilizing a combination of quantitative real-time PCR to determine the presence of mecA and genes associated with virulence, staphylococcal protein A typing, staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec typing, multilocus sequence typing, and pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Using these methods, clonally related MRSA were isolated from multiple environmental locations as well as from humans and animals. Non-identical but genetically similar MSSA and MRSA were also identified from distinct sources within this sample pool. PFGE indicated that the majority of MRSA isolates were clonally related to the prototype human strain USA300. These studies support the notion that S. aureus may be shed into an environment by humans or pilot whales and subsequently colonize or infect exposed new hosts.
This review critically evaluates the available mercury (Hg) data in Arctic marine biota and the Inuit population against toxicity threshold values. In particular marine top predators exhibit concentrations of mercury in their tissues and organs that are believed to exceed thresholds for biological effects. Species whose concentrations exceed threshold values include the polar bears (Ursus maritimus), beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), pilot whale (Globicephala melas), hooded seal (Cystophora cristata), a few seabird species, and landlocked Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus). Toothed whales appear to be one of the most vulnerable groups, with high concentrations of mercury recorded in brain tissue with associated signs of neurochemical effects. Evidence of increasing concentrations in mercury in some biota in Arctic Canada and Greenland is therefore a concern with respect to ecosystem health.
The exploitation of non-invasive samples has been widely used in genetic monitoring of terrestrial species. In aquatic ecosystems, non-invasive samples such as feces, shed hair or skin, are less accessible. However, the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) has recently been shown to be an effective tool for genetic monitoring of species presence in freshwater ecosystems. Detecting species in the marine environment using eDNA potentially offers a greater challenge due to the greater dilution, amount of mixing and salinity compared with most freshwater ecosystems. To determine the potential use of eDNA for genetic monitoring we used specific primers that amplify short mitochondrial DNA sequences to detect the presence of a marine mammal, the harbor porpoise, Phocoena phocoena, in a controlled environment and in natural marine locations. The reliability of the genetic detections was investigated by comparing with detections of harbor porpoise echolocation clicks by static acoustic monitoring devices. While we were able to consistently genetically detect the target species under controlled conditions, the results from natural locations were less consistent and detection by eDNA was less successful than acoustic detections. However, at one site we detected long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas, a species rarely sighted in the Baltic. Therefore, with optimization aimed towards processing larger volumes of seawater this method has the potential to compliment current visual and acoustic methods of species detection of marine mammals.
Dive capacity among toothed whales (suborder: Odontoceti) has been shown to generally increase with body mass in a relationship closely linked to the allometric scaling of metabolic rates. However, two odontocete species tagged in this study, the Blainville’s beaked whale Mesoplodon densirostris and the Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris, confounded expectations of a simple allometric relationship, with exceptionally long (mean: 46.1 min & 65.4 min) and deep dives (mean: 1129 m & 1179 m), and comparatively small body masses (med.: 842.9 kg & 1556.7 kg). These two species also exhibited exceptionally long recovery periods between successive deep dives, or inter-deep-dive intervals (M. densirostris: med. 62 min; Z. cavirostris: med. 68 min). We examined competing hypotheses to explain observed patterns of vertical habitat use based on body mass, oxygen binding protein concentrations, and inter-deep-dive intervals in an assemblage of five sympatric toothed whales species in the Bahamas. Hypotheses were evaluated using dive data from satellite tags attached to the two beaked whales (M. densirostris, n = 12; Z. cavirostris, n = 7), as well as melon-headed whales Peponocephala electra (n = 13), short-finned pilot whales Globicephala macrorhynchus (n = 15), and sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus (n = 27). Body mass and myoglobin concentration together explained only 36% of the variance in maximum dive durations. The inclusion of inter-deep-dive intervals, substantially improved model fits (R2 = 0.92). This finding supported a hypothesis that beaked whales extend foraging dives by exceeding aerobic dive limits, with the extension of inter-deep-dive intervals corresponding to metabolism of accumulated lactic acid. This inference points to intriguing tradeoffs between body size, access to prey in different depth strata, and time allocation within dive cycles. These tradeoffs and resulting differences in habitat use have important implications for spatial distribution patterns, and relative vulnerabilities to anthropogenic impacts.
Pilot whales are two cetacean species (Globicephala melas and G. macrorhynchus) whose distributions are correlated with water temperature and partially overlap in some areas like the North Atlantic Ocean. In the context of global warming, distribution range shifts are expected to occur in species affected by temperature. Consequently, a northward displacement of the tropical pilot whale G. macrorynchus is expected, eventually leading to increased secondary contact areas and opportunities for interspecific hybridization. Here, we describe genetic evidences of recurrent hybridization between pilot whales in northeast Atlantic Ocean. Based on mitochondrial DNA sequences and microsatellite loci, asymmetric introgression of G. macrorhynchus genes into G. melas was observed. For the latter species, a significant correlation was found between historical population growth rate estimates and paleotemperature oscillations. Introgressive hybridization, current temperature increases and lower genetic variation in G. melas suggest that this species could be at risk in its northern range. Under increasing environmental and human-mediated stressors in the North Atlantic Ocean, it seems recommendable to develop a conservation program for G. melas.
Diving behaviour of short-finned pilot whales is often described by two states; deep foraging and shallow, non-foraging dives. However, this simple classification system ignores much of the variation that occurs during subsurface periods. We used multi-state hidden Markov models (HMM) to characterize states of diving behaviour and the transitions between states in short-finned pilot whales. We used three parameters (number of buzzes, maximum dive depth and duration) measured in 259 dives by digital acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) deployed on 20 individual whales off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, USA. The HMM identified a four-state model as the best descriptor of diving behaviour. The state-dependent distributions for the diving parameters showed variation between states, indicative of different diving behaviours. Transition probabilities were considerably higher for state persistence than state switching, indicating that dive types occurred in bouts. Our results indicate that subsurface behaviour in short-finned pilot whales is more complex than a simple dichotomy of deep and shallow diving states, and labelling all subsurface behaviour as deep dives or shallow dives discounts a significant amount of important variation. We discuss potential drivers of these patterns, including variation in foraging success, prey availability and selection, bathymetry, physiological constraints and socially mediated behaviour.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published about 5 years ago
Many animals produce vocal sequences that appear complex. Most researchers assume that these sequences are well characterized as Markov chains (i.e. that the probability of a particular vocal element can be calculated from the history of only a finite number of preceding elements). However, this assumption has never been explicitly tested. Furthermore, it is unclear how language could evolve in a single step from a Markovian origin, as is frequently assumed, as no intermediate forms have been found between animal communication and human language. Here, we assess whether animal taxa produce vocal sequences that are better described by Markov chains, or by non-Markovian dynamics such as the ‘renewal process’ (RP), characterized by a strong tendency to repeat elements. We examined vocal sequences of seven taxa: Bengalese finches Lonchura striata domestica, Carolina chickadees Poecile carolinensis, free-tailed bats Tadarida brasiliensis, rock hyraxes Procavia capensis, pilot whales Globicephala macrorhynchus, killer whales Orcinus orca and orangutans Pongo spp. The vocal systems of most of these species are more consistent with a non-Markovian RP than with the Markovian models traditionally assumed. Our data suggest that non-Markovian vocal sequences may be more common than Markov sequences, which must be taken into account when evaluating alternative hypotheses for the evolution of signalling complexity, and perhaps human language origins.